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American Crossroads

June 1, 2020

At some point, when the embers cool on the street and the news channels move on from the 24/7 coast-to-coast feed, the image we’ll need to remember is the one that started it all—the murder of George Floyd.

We will need to memorialize Floyd not only with tears, but with policy. The policy must not end with a revision of police procedures; it must include a rethinking of the American community. We can no longer consign entire neighborhoods, regions, races to the American Upside-Down in which the achievement of some modicum of stability, peace, and security is the stuff of against-all-odds TV movies. We must at last acknowledge that access to quality housing, healthcare and education is not a privilege but a right—the place from which a healthy society is born.

Food, shelter, health and learning are the proverbial bootstraps by which we keep telling Americans to pull themselves up. An America that cannot or will not allocate the resources for these bootstraps and yet continues to call itself the land of opportunity is a nation in the killing grip of delusion. We have a choice before us: concerted, optimistic action or defeatist self-destruction.

How, exactly, will we choose to make America great?

Greg Blake Miller

Turning Off My Phone at Midnight

May 19, 2020


GBM-Phone in Phone

Staggered and beaten by pixels,
I fade, float, try to sink into warm cavelike analog darkness,
Blue light swimming on the walls,
My eyelids invaded by the inhuman outer glow of information,
Endless, bottomless, underworld stuff
Devoid even of the spirit of Hades,
Immaterial material,
Materialism without material,
Nothing tactile to reform or remake or melt or beat into ploughshares,
Weapons of inner war now securely tucked inside my mind
To deny even the independence of my disobedient dreams,
The dreams of a beaten man,
A man beaten by the infinite contents of his own pocket.

– Greg Blake Miller


Authoritarianism Made Easy!

May 11, 2020

GBM-Ilustration for "Authoritarianism Made Easy".jpeg

I know what you’re going through: You want to be an authoritarian, and it’s just taking too long. Here’s a secret: While you’re busy listening to the so-called “experts,” reading up on the Establishment’s “classics of authoritarianism” and deciding on your authoritarian “belief system,” others are cutting out the waste and actually being authoritarians. Think about it: You’re TRYING to be an authoritarian, while they’re actually living the authoritarian life. They’ve simplified their goals, clarified their message, and taken action on their dreams.

Well, now it makes sense to ask, “What do they know that I don’t?”

I’m here to help.

Today I’m going to let you in on what I’ve learned in decades of successful authoritarianism. Most aspiring authoritarians are wasting time and money on old-school “solutions” like authoritarian policymaking and crafting coherent authoritarian ideologies. With my simple seven-step program, you’ll learn secrets that can save you valuable energy that would be better used on the things you really want to do, like attacking enemies and watching television. These techniques have been used by successful authoritarians the world over. Don’t take it from me, take it from the well-known dictator Josef Stalin, who used these techniques in such brilliant managerial moves as The Campaign Against Trotskyites and The Denunciation of Rootless Cosmopolitans.

The simple tools I’m going to teach you work whether you consider yourself “right” or “left” or even simply “wrong.” True authoritarians know that these directional signals are window-dressing, the result of years of squandered energy in pursuit of old, tired ideas such as “justifying my draconian actions” and “building a seemingly coherent intellectual rationale for a crackdown.” If you’ve been spinning your wheels on such projects, you know that the only “right” is “I’m right” and the only “left” is “You’ve been left behind.” Don’t miss the opportunity to learn our PowerOfPower7™ Secrets today. No less an authority than the renowned authoritarian Adolf Hitler agreed with Stalin on these seven simple steps—and those guys couldn’t agree on anything. Well, there was that once, but we’ll blame that on Molotov and Ribbentrop.

This is the beginning of a journey that will allow you to overcome your inhibitions, silence your rivals, and bend the arc of history whichever way you damn well please. Why wait? Let’s get to the first Seven Steps!

Authoritarianism Made Easy, Lesson One:
Ridding Yourself of Rivals: Setting up Scapegoats in the Power Structure

  1. Assert authority. | You alone can fix it!
  2. Delegate authority. | Work smarter, not harder!
  3. Renounce responsibility. | It’s not your fault!
  4. Denounce those to whom you’ve delegated. | It’s their fault.
  5. Inflame the people against rival power bases. | Leverage the power of blame!
  6. Assert authority. | You alone can fix it.
  7. Purge rival power bases. | Winning.

 With these simple steps, you’ll be dispatching enemies within days. Don’t waste time taking responsibility when you can be taking power! By putting these lessons to use today, you’ll take your first step* toward The Power of Power™ and impact countless lives in your community, or what’s left of it.

*Just for you we have a very special offer available today only: Write to us with your name, e-mail address, and checking account number, we’ll send you, at no cost, Lesson 2: Becoming Your Own Public Disinformation Officer.

– Text and illustration by Greg Blake Miller

A Redemptive Dream of the Bad Old Days: Nostalgia, History, and Materiality in Tarkovsky’s “Andrei Rublev”

May 3, 2020

Andrei Rublev DVD Cover.jpeg

[This article was adapted from my dissertation, Reentry Shock: Historical transition and temporal longing in the cinema of the Soviet Thaw, Greg Blake Miller, University of Oregon, 2010).]

Rolan Bykov is sweating. Leaping, spinning, standing on his hands, kicking a drum with his feet, singing things that ought not be sung in polite company.  Fortunately, he is not in polite company, but on a film set, in a crude log hut, performing for actors dressed as peasants, having great fun describing the sexual misadventures of the 15th century Russian nobility. The film is Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1966 masterpiece, Andrei Rublev, a meditation on the life and times of Russia’s greatest medieval icon painter. Bykov plays the role of the skomorokh, the itinerant jester whose rough stock-in-trade is the profane leavening of a heavy life. His motion is elemental; it stirs the stillness like a hard spring wind; in medieval huts, as on Soviet film sets, the anarchic spirit is an indispensable and dangerous thing. The jester rests, accepts water from his grateful audience. Outside a window frame, rain falls hard upon the countryside. Three monks have entered for shelter; one will betray the jester. Henchmen of the Grand Prince will arrive, pull the jester outside, bash his head into a tree trunk. He will lose his freedom. He will lose his tongue. The film will go unseen by the Russian public for five years; the Soviet authorities will consider it too blunt in its presentation of a cruel age. In 1969, the film will show at Cannes and win the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) Prize. By 1971, the authorities will relent, and Andrei Rublev will make its way onto Soviet screens and begin its long ascent into the Russian cinematic canon.

Bykov would later say that he saw in Tarkovsky’s works a nostalgia “not aimed at the past” (Bykov, 1990, p. 155). What can this possibly mean? Isn’t nostalgia all about the past? And what kind of nostalgia can one attribute to a director whose vision of the past includes such things as the removal of jesters’ tongues? Wouldn’t this be the opposite of nostalgia?  Bykov’s words, however, are not to be dismissed. Tarkovsky’s cinematic nostalgia, he said, replaced longing for a lost past with “a yearning for the future, whose roots he sought as an artist interested in history.” Like any good jester, Bykov gave conventional thinking a sly twist, and in doing so offered a gateway to a deeper understanding of Tarkovsky as a director, Andrei Rublev as a film, and the position of both filmmaker and film in Soviet culture.

In this paper I will take up Bykov’s invitation and analyze the ways in which Andrei Rublev encourages and rewards a creative reconsideration of the very concept of nostalgia. In the first section, I outline the film’s narrative and point out the crucial questions it raises about the nature of hope and longing. The second section introduces and develops Svetlana Boym’s typology of nostalgia. Next, I discuss the conventional portrayal of Rublev as a historical figure and the film’s challenge to that portrayal. Finally, building on the ideas of Henri Bergson, I explore the ways in which the materiality of the film’s images embodies an ambiguous, open-ended, and highly spiritual brand of nostalgic longing. … [READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE.]

There Will Be No Game Today

April 9, 2020

Baseball Mitt, Spring 2020.jpeg

The spring of 2020
Is the player to be named later,
Left out of the headlines,
Which promised a bargain
For our side.
But these stories
Were based on insufficient data.
The reporting was incomplete,
Whether out of laziness
Or simple humanity:
Who knew?
Who knew that
When the deal was completed
It would turn out
That the Other Side
Had gotten everything.

– Greg Blake Miller


The Rebels’ Run to Glory, 1990

April 2, 2020


Thirty years ago today, a team, a coach, and a city forged a dream of “electric togetherness.” Read “The Rebel Alliance,” the story behind the 1990 UNLV men’s basketball team’s run to glory.

Dept. of Flying Time: I wrote this feature in 2010 for Vegas Seven to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the victory, when the city was in the doldrums of a very different crisis. Now, as then, we could use a little of that old electric togetherness—with appropriate social distancing, of course!

Be safe, be strong, be well!

– Greg Blake Miller

The Escape

February 13, 2020

Shadow Greg, La Jolla.JPG

They seemed so sure just who I was
And just where the winds would take me
And just what I dreamed when I slept alone
Beneath the willow tree

And that the blossom in a young girl’s eyes
Like a gypsy dream revealed tomorrow
And even the streetcorner saints
Wished me well on the path
I was sure to follow.

And they cleared the road
And swept the dust
But it clouded my vision
And I just saw hands
Grabbing, taking, giving with strings
Dreaming their dreams
In my unsure skin.

On desire’s rickshaw I rattled ahead
Upon their gladly burdened shoulders
And the city of gold glistened before me
And I glimpsed the crown that I would wear
And I turned with a start and tumbled out
And scraped my knee on sandy ground
And wound my way through crowded streets
And disappeared among the unknowns
And at the end of the path, the place I sought:
Before me, green grass, and a place called home.

– Greg Blake Miller, July 23, 1993

From the Archives: A Historic District of the Mind

February 12, 2020

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In 2003, city leaders created Las Vegas’ first official historic district, the John S. Park Neighborhood. It was a step forward for a city whose fondest architectural tradition had seemed, at times, to be the teardown. For a moment, the celebratory implosion and the parade of earthmovers was supplanted by an official acknowledgment that physical structures could be vessels of communal memory. It was a gesture toward our maturity as a city, toward our capacity to understand that as we move headlong into the future, the past has something to teach us—that it whispers of the humanity we share with our civic forebears, in all of their striving, their small joys and disappointments, their successes and  imperfections.

In this essay for Las Vegas Life,“A Historic District of the Mind,” I argued that, while the official designation was important, the future of local history depended first of all on our willingness as citizens to acknowledge that we are a part of history, and history is a part of us. In other words, history begins with our own capacity to make memories and to appreciate the places where memories are made. Civic action begins with individual consciousness; civic wisdom begins with individual willingness to slow down, take a backward glance, and reflect.

Read “A Historic District of the Mind”  here.

Illustration by Steve Brodner for Las Vegas Life, 2003.

A Man of Appetite

February 10, 2020

Jay Sarno.jpeg

In the summer of 2001, as the 35th anniversary of the opening of Caesars Palace approached, I was asked by Las Vegas Life to report and reflect on the life of Caesars founder Jay Sarno. Here is the resulting story, “A Man of Appetite,” from the magazine’s August 5, 2001 issue:

Toward the end, Jay Sarno, father of the Vegas theme resort, was big-bellied, full-cheeked, and insatiably hungry. He was known on occasion to diet, which meant replacing his breakfast salami with filet mignon. He rehabilitated his bum ticker by hoisting an ice-cream cone in each fist. He had philandered his way out of a marriage, gambled his way out of a million and dreamed his way out of the casino business. He hoped to remedy this state of affairs with girls, dice and dreams.

Indulgence, for Sarno, had always been part of a creative process. You want something. You taste it. You re-create it, writ large, for the world. If you want to party like Bachhus, you build the Bacchanal room and serve six-course meals with neck rubs and bottomless wine goblets. “His insights all came from his own appetites,” says Don Williams, Sarno’s right-hand-man at Circus Circus in the late 1960s and early ’70s. “Get prettier girls, build bigger buildings, get better restaurants, have bigger gamblers around. All these things came from his loins, not his brain.”

Sarno was the Freud and Ford of Las Vegas, the first in town to fully realize the link between our dreams and our appetites. The central assumption of his career was that we wanted the same things he did. Once upon a time, Sarno decided that he wanted a palace. So he built one and called it Caesars. That’s plural, no apostrophe. Every guest was an emperor. Sarno knew that we, too, had dreams. We, too, were hungry.

Caesars Palace opened on August 5, 1966, with a three-day party featuring 1,400 well-heeled invitees, an Andy Williams-fronted show and a busty blond Cleopatra as greeter. The Palace wasn’t just a resort, it was a pageant. It was a wild baroque dream of imperial antiquity, and the artifacts of the dream were everywhere, from the come-hither Roman costumes of cocktail girls to the curve of the bathroom faucets. Out front, a statue reproduction of the Winged Victory of Samothrace reached skyward from a great oblong pool—a headless sentry leading you to a place where you, like fiddling Nero, were welcome to lose your head. For the first time, a Vegas hotel was all about storytelling, a suspension of disbelief.

From 1965, when construction began, to 1969, when he sold the palace, Sarno worked ceaselessly to create the resort experience he wanted, He kept his hands on as many facets of the operation as possible. While designing the Palace, he traveled to Europe and photographed columns, pilasters, rooftops and flying buttresses. He spared few expenses. He wanted marble sculpture, so he headed to the town where Michelangelo had obtained marble.

The hotel’s theme, in truth, was not Imperial Rome, but Sarno’s vision of it: Faithfulness to that vision was more important than verisimilitude. Sarno had the help of designer Jo Harris, who would often tone down or transform or harmonize his exuberant concepts. But in the end, the place was Sarno’s, and it kept him running … READ MORE from the original magazine layout. Story picks up from here at the end of the first page.


January 27, 2020

Basketball Hoops, Cornerstone Park 11 am, January 26, 2020.JPG

Woke up this morning
And, fuck, it’s still true.
In the country of basketball,
Where my soul spent its youth:
All of the flags
At half-mast.