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


8½ Rules of Privilege

As many beautifully-snarky people have pointed out in recent years, it’s getting harder and harder to be White, male, heterosexual, and/or cisgender in this country these days without having to occasionally think about one or more of these identities in ways that might make us uncomfortable. (Full disclosure: I am all of those things listed in the previous sentence.) I have the utmost faith that we can handle it, though, and that we will emerge better for it.

I only recently (i.e. in the past 4-5 years) came to understand the extent to which I do not have to consider how my race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. affect my daily life. Other people do not have that luxury.

I’m not talking about any great epiphany that I had. Really, the most important thing that I have come to understand and accept is this: with respect to people whose lives are not like mine, I don’t understand their daily reality, and I will never fully understand. To put it another way, I get that I don’t get it.

I’ve had numerous discussions on social media and in real life (yes, IRL conversations do still happen, even with people who live glued to a computer like me) recently about how to recognize and understand our various forms of privilege, and how it can be difficult because of the way our society tends to view most of my attributes (White, male, etc.) as the “default” setting.

As a sort of confession, I used to be of the mindset that racism, sexism, etc. were not my fault, because I never owned slaves, I hadn’t even been born when Mad Men took place, and so on. It’s a seductive view for someone who wants to be on the right side of history while keeping a perfectly clear conscience, but it’s not true. Continue reading


Identity Politics and Academia

I’ve seen a number of people recently post an article published on Vox, written by an anonymous college professor*, about the threats to his career and his “academic freedom” (whatever that term means anymore) posed by today’s college students and their “identity politics” (whatever that term means anymore).

I spent quite a bit of time deconstructing the article, at least in my mind. It’s worth noting that the anonymous professor only mentions one specific incident, in which a presumably conservative student reported him to the administration for having communist sympathies or something. That incident went nowhere.

I eventually came to the conclusion that the anonymous professor has a serious problem with regard to the tenuousness of his career, but that his beef is with his university, not his students. Why are professors’ jobs so shaky, and why are universities allegedly so quick to punish professors for offending people mostly age 18 to 22 (who are supposed to be there to learn from said professors)?

One could point to the increasing corporatization of academia, or the increasing tendency to treat students as consumers. Luckily, Amanda Taub, a fellow former-lawyer-turned-writer who deserves better than to be compared to me any more than that, addressed these issues quite thoroughly in a post at Vox. She notes that not only is there a serious problem in academic employment, but that many people are all too willing to dump the problem off on a bunch of teenagers, who make an easy target, quite frankly: 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


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


Secondhand America


In America, class lines run parallel to racial lines. At the very bottom are people of color. The Caucasian equivalent is me—an Appalachian. As a male Caucasian in America, I am supposed to have an inherent advantage in every possible way. It’s true. I can pass more easily in society. I have better access to education, health care, and employment. But if I insist on behaving like a poor white person—shopping at secondhand shops and eating mullet—I not only earn the epithet of “trash,” I somehow deserve it.

The term “white trash” is class disparagement due to economics. Polite society regards me as stupid, lazy, ignorant, violent and untrustworthy.

I am trash because of where I’m from.

I am trash because of where I shop.

I am trash because of what I eat.

– Chris Offut, “Trash Food,” Oxford American, April 10, 2015




Dehumanization is one of the most important tactics used to justify the denial of rights, of freedoms, and of life itself. We dehumanize people to rationalize killing them in warfare, exploiting them in sweatshops, stealing their land and their natural resources. We dehumanize people to rationalize, withholding services or assistance, discriminating and segregating and limiting freedoms. We dehumanize to rationalize the denial of justice.

Garbage doesn’t deserve protection. People, though, people do. And people, no matter how troubled or unpleasant they are, are not garbage. They are human beings.

– Elizabeth Wood, “Dehumanization In A Nutshell: ‘We Work With The Garbage Of New York'”


The Cleveland Police Department’s Defense in the Tamir Rice Lawsuit

Last Friday, the City of Cleveland answered the wrongful death/civil rights lawsuit filed by Tamir Rice’s family, and part of its defense has caused much anger and consternation, especially to non-lawyers. I find just about everything about the Cleveland PD’s actions in this case—and those of their supporters—to be infuriating, but from my perspective as a lawyer, the defense outlined in their answer seemed like pretty standard legal language to me:

The city, in its response, wrote that Tamir’s death on Nov. 22 and all of the injuries his family claims in the suit “were directly and proximately caused by their own acts, not this Defendant.” It also says that the 12-year-old’s shooting death was caused “by the failure … to exercise due care to avoid injury.”

The response does not explain these defenses in more detail, though 20 defenses are listed in all, including another one that says Tamir died because of “the conduct of individuals or entities other than Defendant.”

By Rob Sinclair (Flickr: Cleveland by night) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

If you read the city’s answer, linked in the blockquote above (and also here), you’ll see that the quoted portions come from the city’s “affirmative defenses” on page 38, which read as follows: Continue reading