Danny Duncan Collum, author of the novel White Boy, teaches writing at Kentucky State University in Frankfort. 

Posts By This Author

The Boss's Musical Indictment

by Danny Duncan Collum 06-01-2012
Springsteen sings what politicians won't say: We were robbed and the thieves have escaped justice.

IN THE GREAT gospel and blues tradition of affirming in the negative, Bruce Springsteen’s new album, Wrecking Ball, is simultaneously a ferocious roar of righteous anger at what the captains of Wall Street did to America in 2008 and a riotous celebration of American roots. That could make it the perfect soundtrack for a spring and summer resurgence of the Occupy Wall Street campaign.

At this point a new album from Bruce Springsteen is no longer an earth-shaking event, even in the world of rock and roll. After all, the guy is 62. In the past few years, two core members of his band (organist Danny Federici and sax man Clarence Clemons) have died, not from rock-star excesses but from the old-guy ailments of skin cancer and stroke, respectively. And The Boss’ last album of new material, the 2009 Working on a Dream, was definitely subpar.

But with Wrecking Ball, Spring-steen has, for the second time within a decade, stepped forward to assume the role of a Telecaster-toting poet laureate and produced a stirring work of popular art that speaks to the depths of the national condition. The first time was with The Rising, his 2002 meditation on mortality and loss in response to 9/11. The songs in this new collection plainly declare about our ongoing economic crisis what no mainstream national political leader has been willing to say: We were robbed, and the thieves have escaped justice.

Death by Individualism

by Danny Duncan Collum 05-01-2012
There is no vaccine against selfishness.

CHILDHOOD VACCINATIONS have been a rite of passage for decades now. But in recent years, growing numbers of parents have refused to go along. A movement that began in the 1980s over adverse reactions to the diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP) and mumps, measles, and rubella (MMR) shots started to become a tidal wave in 1998. That’s when a British researcher, Andrew Wakefield, published a study allegedly linking childhood vaccinations to autism.

A decade later, an anti-vaccination trend had spread into a broad swath of educated, upper- middle-class Americans inclined toward “alternative” lifestyles. It has been especially strong in the Pacific Northwest. In one county in Washington state, according to the February 2012 New England Journal of Medicine, 72 percent of kindergarteners and a whopping 89 percent of sixth graders were not fully vaccinated. Under pressure from this new constituency, many jurisdictions made it easier to get vaccine exemptions, adding to the existing “religious” exemption a new one for “philosophy” or “personal beliefs.”

Then, in 2011, the Wakefield autism study that had sparked the anti-vaccination movement was completely discredited. The British medical journal The Lancet, which had published Wakefield’s article on his findings, officially retracted it. That should have been that. But it wasn’t. In the last year public health advocates have learned the hard way that once something is on the internet it never goes away and, as one scientist told PBS’ Frontline, “People were much more likely to believe something they had seen on YouTube than the Centers for Disease Control.”

Now doctors and state governments are pushing back, and a new round in the vaccination war has begun. Washington now requires a doctor’s signature on those philosophical exemptions. In March, the Vermont Senate repealed the state’s philosophical exemption. All over the country, family doctors and pediatricians are refusing to see patients who don’t comply with vaccinations.

Diet, Exercise, and Temples of the Holy Ghost

by Danny Duncan Collum 05-01-2012
From Mississippi to Kentucky coal-mining country, churches are taking on the public health crisis of obesity.

Food-related coverage in this issue was supported by ELCA World Hunger (www.elca.org/hunger)

IS OBESITY a “Southern thing,” like drawling accents, gospel music, and excessive devotion to college football? Well, as a native Southerner, I have to admit that increasingly it looks that way.

Obesity is, of course, a national problem. In 1990, 34 states had obesity rates between 10 and 14 percent, but no state had a 15 percent obesity rate. By 2010 every state in the country was more than 20 percent obese.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as of 2010 there were 12 states with obesity rates of more than 30 percent. All but one of them are in the South, and that one exception—Michigan—may blame its problem on the many Southern migrants it received during the 1950s and ’60s. And the closer you look, the worse the picture gets. The highest concentrations of obesity were found in six states: Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina in the Deep South, and the largely Appalachian states of Kentucky and West Virginia.

The causes of obesity are the same for everyone. You eat too much, you don’t get enough exercise, and you become obese. But why do people eat too much and move too little? As for any human behavior, the causes are complex and ambiguous, but the timing of the obesity outbreak suggests some answers. The upward trend in obesity began in the 1980s and ’90s, when cable TV became widespread in American households, encouraging a couch-potato lifestyle. This was also when the two-income family became the norm. With both parents working full-time, home-cooked meals were often replaced by fat-laden fast-food dinners washed down with giant servings of sugary soda pop. In the subsequent two decades, both of these trends accelerated, with widespread internet access making physical activity even rarer.

Meet the New Boss

by Danny Duncan Collum 04-01-2012

Piano-playing cats or union organizing drives—Google and Facebook don’t care. They just keep a sieve in the flow to collect information that can be sold to advertisers.

Sharia Hysteria

by Danny Duncan Collum 03-01-2012

Muslim cops and football coaches (oh my!) -- the next step in the right wing's efforts to keep Americans in fear.

The End of Rock As We Know It

by Danny Duncan Collum 02-01-2012

Thirty-four years later, nearly two decades into the Internet age, the September 2011 break-up of the rock band R.E.M. reminded me just how right Bangs was. R.E.M. was one of the last traditional rock bands still doing relevant work.

Too Much Talk?

by Danny Duncan Collum 01-01-2012

Consensus decision-making can make an old-style Senate filibuster seem purposeful and engaging.

The Good of Manufacturing

by Danny Duncan Collum 12-01-2011

How blind commitment to 'free trade' throws working people under the bus.

Food for Life

by Danny Duncan Collum 11-01-2011

Why are we still sinking in health-care induced debt?

The Vision of E Street

by Danny Duncan Collum 09-01-2011

Springsteen has always understood that the rock-and-roll story is about freedom.

The Roswell Legacy

by Danny Duncan Collum 08-01-2011

How strange sightings, the Cold War, and the national security state add up to a truth we'll never know.

The Ayn Rand Makeover

by Danny Duncan Collum 07-01-2011

The mainstreaming of Rand is, in large part, the work of one man (and his money).

Solidarity Forever

by Danny Duncan Collum 06-15-2011

In 1886, members of America's fledgling labor movement called a general strike for May 1 to demand an eight-hour work day.

The Civil War's Real Legacy

by Danny Duncan Collum 06-03-2011

"A white man's country" became the multiracial, multicultural democracy we now inhabit.

The Best of Tools, and the Worst

by Danny Duncan Collum 05-01-2011

THE EGYPTIAN revolution started on Facebook. True. The Iranians who took to the streets last year to try to overturn a fraudulent election used Twitter to coordinate their actions and to communicate with the outside world. Also true.

In the Line of Fire

by Danny Duncan Collum 03-01-2011

American alienation is the real killer that stalks our past, and our present.

Palin's Paradoxical Power

by Danny Duncan Collum 02-01-2011

In the past two years, the culture wars have been complicated on the Right by the rise of the "tea party." In a time of grave economic crisis and massive government action, the traditional right-wi

Wanted: Presidential Backbone

by Danny Duncan Collum 01-01-2011
Corporations don't have to breathe the air or drink the water—so why are they "people" too?

Here's some 2010 midterm election commentary ripped straight from the headlines—of 1886.

As we all know by now, the story of the 2010 campaign season was the torrent of secret, unaccountable corporate cash used to saturate the airwaves with false, or nearly false, pro-Republican advertising. I live in an upper South border region, prime natural habitat for Blue Dog Dems, and here the commercials aimed at southern Indiana's Baron Hill and central Kentucky's Ben Chandler rendered even the World Series almost unwatchable.

Overall campaign spending made 2010 the third most expensive election ever, behind 2004 and 2008. Fred Wertheimer, president of the nonprofit Democracy 21, told Politico that about $200 million was being spent by outside groups that did not disclose the sources of their money.

It is generally acknowledged that the deluge of midterm campaign cash was unleashed by a conveniently timed January 2010 Supreme Court ruling, in the Citizens United case, which enshrined corporations' right to spend money in political campaigns as an essential First Amendment protection. Adding his voice to the majority in that case, Justice Antonin Scalia gushed, "To exclude or impede corporate speech is to muzzle the principal agents of the modern free economy. We should celebrate rather than condemn the addition of this speech to the public debate."

Slate magazine's legal correspondent, Dalia Lithwick, cleverly dubbed Citizens United "The Pinocchio Project" because it sought to turn an artificial corporation into a real boy. But the Pinocchio Project has been going on for a long time. In fact it goes back to—you guessed it—1886.

What's Wrong with Privatizing the Internet?

by Danny Duncan Collum 12-01-2010

For a while it looked like the battle for "Net neutrality" was won when President Obama appointed his own chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

McCarthyite Mashup

by Danny Duncan Collum 11-01-2010

It happens every summer. Newsmakers go on vacation, real news gets slow, and novelty stories rush in to fill the vacuum. One summer it's child abductions; the next it's shark attacks.