Happy Bastille Day!

In honor of Bastille Day, here’s some classic Rush:

Now, go reflect on France, or learn to speak French, or whatever it is people do on Bastille Day. Here’s the Eiffel Tower with fireworks: Continue reading


The Battle for Our Own History

No one* wants to be seen as the bad guy.

In many other cases, however, justifications of slavery seemed primarily like an attempt by white Americans to avoid feelings of guilt for the past. After all, for many people, beliefs about one’s ancestors reflect one’s beliefs about oneself. We don’t want our ancestors to have done bad things because we don’t want to think of ourselves as being bad people. These slavery apologists were less invested in defending slavery per se than in defending slaveowners, and they weren’t defending slaveowners so much as themselves. Continue reading


Casus Belli, 1861

Tell me again how the American Civil War somehow wasn’t about slavery:

The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.” Continue reading


The Truths We Hold

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

U.S. Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union, February 2, 1861 Continue reading


“My mother was Irish.” (UPDATED x 2)

I was not planning on seeing Aloha, Cameron Crowe‘s latest film, but it’s getting some interesting scrutiny in the media.

First off, let me just say that Crowe’s Almost Famous is a modern classic, and Say Anything… is, at a bare minimum, a classic of its era (and probably also a modern classic). Singles will always be one of my favorite films (“I read half of Exodus!”) I’m not as enamored of Jerry Maguire as some, but it remains highly quotable.

Vanilla Sky did something truly astounding, though. It was a remake of a Spanish film, Abre los Ojos, that I thoroughly enjoyed. Crowe’s remake managed to be very faithful to the original (including casting Penelope Cruz in the same role), while also completely failing to capture whatever it was that made that movie good. I should also note that I saw Vanilla Sky in the theater, thought it was pond scum, then rented Abre los Ojos and thought it was great. The order of viewing may have influenced my opinion of the Spanish film.

I have not seen Elizabethtown or We Bought a Zoo, nor do I foresee doing so in the future.

Much of the media coverage of Aloha seems to recognize the relative slump in Crowe’s career. His most recent films haven’t done all that well in theaters, and perhaps more importantly (if you look at the “art” side of things), they just haven’t been as good as his earlier works. (Maybe that’s why there are rumors that he’s trying to go back to the beginning.) Continue reading


America’s First Female Lawyer

Saturday, May 23 was the birthday of Arabella Mansfield (1846-1911), who, in 1869, became the first female attorney in the United States.

Via National Women's History Museum / Facebook

Via National Women’s History Museum / Facebook

Via the National Women’s History Museum on Facebook:

In 1869 she became the first female lawyer in the United States. Mansfield passed the bar despite the fact that the test was only supposed to be administered to men at that time. She challenged the legality of the restriction in Iowa and won her appeal, making Iowa the first state to admit women to its bar.

(h/t Georgette)

From the Iowa Organization of Women Attorneys: Continue reading


On the High Seas

Bolivia, a landlocked South American country, has a navy with 173 vessels and about 5,000 personnel, despite being a landlocked country. It currently uses its navy to patrol the rivers that flow into the Amazon, as well as Lake Titicaca, which is located on Bolivia’s border with Peru. (Lake Titicaca, in addition to being the largest lake in South America, is the highest navigable lake in the world, at 12,507 feet above sea level. That’s the basis for my attempted pun in the title, since I can’t think of any puns based on the name of the lake itself.)

The country used to have a coastline, but lost it to Chile in the War of the Pacific (1879-83). Bolivia, to this day, makes no secret of the fact that it wants that land back.

Map of the War of the Pacific.en2

The country will get its day in court sometime soon, now that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague has agreed to hear its claim for “sovereign access to the sea” (h/t Paul). The legal case involves complicated questions of international law that you can read about on your own. Continue reading


Ignoble Moments in U.S. History: The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882

On May 6, 1882, U.S. President Chester A. Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred all immigration into the United Stated from China for ten years (h/t Melynda). With subsequent renewals, it remained in effect until 1943. Technically, the law only barred “Chinese laborers,” but it effectively prevented all immigration for reasons I’ll get into below.

Chinese immigration to the western United States began around the time that area became the western United States (as opposed to northern Mexico), in the late 1840’s. The California Gold Rush was a major factor, but the (white) Americans coming to California from the eastern U.S. weren’t necessarily thrilled with them being there, but they were tolerated for some time.

Chinese railroad workers sierra nevada

As the Gold Rush wound down, Chinese immigrants and their families settled in cities, especially San Francisco. Many of them took work in restaurants and laundries, and Chinese-Americans played a prominent role as laborers in railroad construction. After the Civil War, however, they made convenient scapegoats for all number of complaints: Continue reading


The Real Meaning of Cinco de Mayo: A Conversation with Myself

Today is May 5, or Cinco de Mayo, a celebration of, uh, um…..

Well, honestly, more than a few people seem to have no idea what Cinco de Mayo is actually about.

I know what it’s about.

You do?

Yup. It’s about having a big-ass PAR-TAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA—ow! What the hell, man!

Oh stop it, you’re fine.

Why the hell did you slap me?

It needed to happen. You’re being an idiot. You don’t really know what Cinco de Mayo is about, either, do you?

It’s like the 4th of July for Mexico, right?

I know that’s not it. Let’s hit the interwebz. [Googles.] Huh, that’s interesting.

What? Let me see!

Cinco de Mayo is, traditionally speaking, a celebration of Mexico’s victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.


Not pictured: The Ark of the Covenant.

Wait, French forces? What’s that about?

The French invaded Mexico in 1861 after the Mexican president, Benito Juárez, stopped making interest payments to foreign-government creditors. French Emperor Napoleon III, supported at first by Britain and Spain, claimed that the invasion was necessary to ensure free trade between Europe and Latin America.

That sounds like kind of a big deal. Wouldn’t the U.S. have gotten involved? Continue reading


If They Could Turn Back Time…


If the Civil War had not taken place, we might not have the Fourteenth Amendment. But it did, and we do. Laws that once might have applied only to the federal government now apply to the states as well.

By the same token, if the Articles of Confederation had worked, we would not have the Constitution. But they didn’t, and we do. We cannot go back and undo the Civil War, and we can’t go back to the Articles of Confederation. Time only flows one direction.

– Hrafnkell Haraldsson, “It’s Getting Hard to Tell Where Sovereign Citizens End and Republicans Begin“, PoliticusUSA, April 24, 2015