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All Reason.com articles with the "History" tag.



Published: Sat, 27 May 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sat, 27 May 2017 04:15:04 -0400

 



3 Ways We're Reliving the Watergate Culture War

Wed, 24 May 2017 14:45:00 -0400

Whether or not we're reliving the Watergate investigation, we sure do seem intent on reenacting the Watergate culture war. That isn't just true of Donald Trump's critics, who are understandably eager to compare the 37th and 45th presidents. It's true of Trump and his team, who keep echoing arguments offered by Richard Nixon and his defenders four decades ago: 1. The double-standard defense. Complain about something Trump has done, and someone is bound to ask why you didn't say a peep when Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama did some other bad thing. (You will get this response even if you protested Clinton or Obama's action quite loudly.) The most prominent person to talk like this, of course, is Donald Trump himself: With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special counsel appointed! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2017 But this defense is a lot older than the present president's political career. Throughout the Watergate investigation, Nixon complained angrily that his predecessors had gotten away with the very activities that were getting him in trouble. In his 2003 book Nixon's Shadow, the Rutgers historian David Greenberg lays out some examples: "If I were a liberal," [Nixon] told [die-hard defender Baruch Korff], "Watergate would be a blip." He compiled a private catalogue of behaviors by others that he believed excused his own. On the basis of comments J. Edgar Hoover made to him, he frequently claimed, not quite accurately, that Lyndon Johnson had bugged his campaign plane in 1968. When Nixon was chided for spying on political opponents, he shot back that John and Robert Kennedy had done the same. And as precedents for his 1972 program of political sabotage, he regularly cited the pranks of Democratic operative Dick Tuck, who had hounded Nixon since his 1950 Senate race. During the Watergate Hearings, [White House Chief of Staff H.R.] Haldeman testified that "dirty tricks" maestro Donald Segretti was hired to be a "Dick Tuck for our side." There's more—much more—but you get the idea. Now, Nixon may have gotten his facts a little scrambled when it came to that alleged airplane bug, and some of the supposed precursors to his crimes didn't actually fit the bill. (He seemed convinced that Daniel Ellsberg's leak of the Pentagon Papers was comparable to the Watergate break-in—a bizarre analogy, though if you've been following the debates over Edward Snowden you've probably heard worse.) But broadly speaking, the president had a point. Many American leaders had abused their powers, sometimes in ways that resembled the Nixon scandals, and the press hadn't always been quick to trumpet the news. Like Nixon, JFK had wiretapped reporters and used the IRS as a political weapon. LBJ may not have bugged Nixon's plane in 1968, but he did spy on Goldwater in 1964. And both Kennedy and Johnson, like many others who have held their job, presided over enormous violations of dissenters' civil liberties. You can make a decent case that Nixon's misbehavior was even worse than theirs, but you can see how the man could get a little resentful about the uneven attention. The trouble with the double-standard defense is that it isn't much of a defense. The crimes of prior presidents aren't a reason to let Nixon off the hook; they're a reason to rein in not just one abusive president but the whole imperial presidency. The same goes for any Trumpian abuses today. 2. Intimations of a "coup." Then as now, each side accused the other of plotting a coup. Rumors that Nixon was planning to seize dictatorial powers circulated not just on the political fringes but in official Washington; many of the president's foes feared that fascism was on the way. After Nixon had Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox fired, Rep. Parren Mitchell of Maryland asked, "Will democracy as we have known it survive, or will fascism come to dominate in this country?" West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd compared the move to a "Brownshirt operation." Meanwhile, the president's defenders tried to wri[...]



History Lessons Are Turning My Kid Into a Scofflaw (and I Couldn’t Be Happier)

Tue, 23 May 2017 00:01:00 -0400

"If I'd lived then, I'd have still gone to saloons," Anthony, my 11-year-old son, said as we watched the Ken Burns documentary, Prohibition. "But I'd have carried a gun in case I had to deal with police or militia." He commented after a scene in which Portland, Maine's Mayor Neal Dow—nicknamed "the sublime fanatic"—ordered troops in 1855 to fire on an angry crowd outside City Hall. They had gathered to protest the statewide ban on alcoholic beverages that Dow pushed through in his zeal to make the world a better place as he conceived such a thing. Like most fanatics, sublime or otherwise, the mayor didn't have a lot of patience for disagreement. One man was killed and seven wounded that day by the forces of mandatory sobriety. Interesting, well-produced, and drawing on multiple sources and experts, Prohibition lends itself beautifully to our homeschooling efforts. It does a thorough job of exploring the religious, reformist, and nativist roots of first the Temperance movement and then the push for full-on Prohibition. We've recently studied the Progressive Era and the fight for women's suffrage, and the documentary pulls in those histories, showing how social movements influence one another and often come together to achieve common goals—sometimes good, and other times leading to disastrous exercises in self-righteous presumption like Prohibition. The Prohibition website includes excellent additional material, too, including an activity asking students to decide between two conceptions of the role of government: In a democracy, people should have the freedom to make their own choices and be responsible for their actions. If they want to indulge in destructive personal behavior, that's their business, not the governments. A democratic government is made up of its citizens and a major responsibility of government is to guarantee equal opportunity for all. The government has a duty to alleviate social ills and guarantee that no one is in need. Those competing views of the state play an ongoing role through many of our lessons. Anthony knows my own opinions, and is no doubt influenced by them, but I always make sure to present him with competing viewpoints. Personally, I think the past speaks for itself as to which of those roles works better in practice, but I also see my job as raising my son to be a rational adult, not a clone of me. So when we studied the Progressive Era we worked with a series of Great Courses lectures by a college professor sympathetic to the progressives, online lectures from Hillsdale College that have a broadly conservative tone, readings from Thaddeus Russell's A Renegade History of the United States, and excerpts from Illiberal Reformers by Thomas C. Leonard. Anthony got an earful of would-be reformers decrying poverty and abuses in the world around them, but also disparaging individuals as "plastic lumps of human dough." He read pre-presidential Woodrow Wilson dismissing individual rights as "nonsense," and perused objections that adherence to respect for natural individual rights "prevent us from determining what social or individual tendencies we shall favor, what we shall depress; It will in general prevent us from imposing a social ideal, and compel us to leave a social anarchy." Anthony considered the Great Courses presenter too respectful of self-appointed shepherds who he found to be condescending and bossy, and the Hillsdale lectures overly deferential to religious authority—off-putting, to him, in its own way. To him, the pseudoscientific racism of the era, culminating in calls for eugenics controls and even elimination of whole populations, thoroughly tainted the confidence of the period's reformers that they were uniquely qualified to mold those lumps human of dough they saw all around them. The sort of molding that evangelical Protestants and progressives attempted during Prohibition, for instance. Or that their heirs attempted during the war on drugs. And with—Well, it goes on and on through examples that my son himself offered up as dangerous [...]



Life Among the Ants

Fri, 19 May 2017 11:02:00 -0400

In the late 1940s and early '50s, GM chief Alfred P. Sloan funded a series of anti-communist cartoons. (The story behind the films is convoluted, but the compressed version is that Sloan's foundation gave grants to Harding College, an Arkansas-based Christian school, which then paid former Disney animator John Sutherland's studio to make them.) One of the shorts is Albert in Blunderland, a 1950 attack on the planned economy. It presents communism as an anthill society—literally, with actual ants.

While just about everyone involved in funding this film hailed from the political right, the cartoon was clearly aimed at a union-friendly working-class audience; it defends independent trade unions and warns that state factories will be able to impose harsh speed-ups with impunity. In a precursor of sorts to the Hard Hat Riot, it ends with a blue-collar worker beating up a socialist:

src="https://archive.org/embed/albert-in-blunderland-1950" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="640" height="480" frameborder="0">

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. I haven't featured any of the Sloan/Harding/Sutherland films in the A/V Club before, but their 1948 effort "Make Mine Freedom" has turned up elsewhere on this website.)




Old Times There Are Best Forgotten

Tue, 16 May 2017 16:15:00 -0400

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA—White supremacist provocateur Richard Spencer showed up in my town this past Saturday to roil the debate over the city council's planned removal of statues of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Spencer and a few score folks carrying flaming tiki torches gathered in Lee Park, a couple of blocks from my house, where they chanted, "What brings us together is that we are white, we are a people, we will not be replaced," and "Russia is our friend." Of course, Spencer and his associates have, as my Reason colleague Robby Soave points out, the constitutional right to their express their views in public. Spencer and his supporters are, as usual, in the wrong. The time has come to remove from public land the monuments honoring the men who led the Confederacy to defeat. But doing so doesn't mean we must then move on to purging slave-owning Founders or even memorials for dead southern soldiers. Looking back requires us to balance the good and the bad, and—on balance—Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and other Confederate leaders simply don't make the cut. Before delving more deeply into the Confederate memorial controversy, let me set out my Southern bona fides. I was born in Texas and reared on my family's dairy farm in the Appalachian Mountains of Southwest Virginia. Our county schools were racially integrated in 1963 when I was in the third grade. My third grade Virginia history book referred to the Civil War as the War Between the States and asserted that that conflict was chiefly over state's rights. Virginia Generals Lee, Jackson, and Stuart were portrayed as honorable and heroic defenders of Southern rights. My high school's team name was the Rebels and our fight song was "Dixie." It was not uncommon to see the Stars and Bars being waved in stands during football games. It is, however, worth noting that in a school in which African Americans made up less than 10 percent of the student body, my class elected a black senior as our homecoming queen. As a student at the University of Virginia in the early 1970s, I learned that many parts of the Commonwealth had not actually desegregated until 1971. At UVA I belonged to a literary and debating society whose members drank a great deal and often sang songs commemorating the Lost Cause, including "The Bonnie Blue Flag" and "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia," but also Yankee tunes like "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." I remained largely unconscious of how offensive Confederate symbols were to some people. That changed when my black roommate Dwayne Morris took a small Stars and Bars out of the coffee mug in which it was standing in our apartment, broke its staff in two and threw it in the trash. Several subsequent long, boozy conversations ended any residual sentimental attachment to the Lost Cause that I may have retained from my earlier schooling. Still, as a young Virginian I never gave much thought to what the Confederate monuments and memorials that appear in nearly every southern town represented. After Reconstruction, Ladies Memorial Associations (LMAs) in the South sprang up to advocate for and oversee the repatriation the remains of Confederate soldiers and to commemorate their deaths by erecting generic war memorial statues. Ultimately, the LMAs joined together for United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1894. It is, however, plain historical fact that most of those memorials to the Confederate dead and monuments to Confederate leaders were erected between 1890 and 1925, when Jim Crow racial apartheid was being established in the South. They were meant and served as powerful symbols of resurgent white supremacy. For example, the monument to Confederate President Jefferson Davis that was just taken down in New Orleans was dedicated in 1911 during a "Whites Only" ceremony featuring a living Stars and Bars formation that sang "Dixie." (The Louisiana House of Representatives just passed a bill that would block the removal of Confederate monuments without a referend[...]



30 Days a Black Man: How Ray Sprigle Exposed Jim Crow in 1940s America [Reason Podcast]

Fri, 12 May 2017 11:00:00 -0400

In 1948, veteran newsman Ray Sprigle, best-known for having exposed Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black's membership in the Ku Klux Klan, published an explosive series detailing his month-long trip through the Jim Crow South. A white man, Sprigle altered his appearance and passsed as black so that he could experience firsthand a part of the country that most Americans either didn't know much or care much about. Traveling with the well-known NAACP activist John Wesley Dobbs, Sprigle (pronounced sprig-el) published 21 articles and a book that detailed the ways in which segregation was ruthlessly enforced at every level of interaction between the races. Party-line phone operators, for instance, would never address blacks as mister or missus on a call and shop owners would drape napkins or tissues over a black woman's head when she tried on a hat. Bill Steigerwald's powerful new book, 30 Days a Black Man: The Forgotten Story That Exposed the Jim Crow South, documents Sprigle's expose and does a masterful job of recreating an America in which de facto and de jure segregation was the rule not just in the former Confederacy but much of the North as well. It's a deeply disturbing and profoundly moving account of what Steigerwald, himself a veteran newsman whose previous book forced the publisher of John Steinbeck's Travels With Charley to reclassify the supposed travelogue as fiction, calls "superstars" fighting for equality under the law (along with Sprigle and Dobbs, Steigerwald points to NAACP head Walter White, who chose to identify as black despite being able to pass as white, and Eleanor Roosevelt, the former First Lady whose commitment to civil rights bore most of its fruit during the Truman years). "When anybody goes back in history," Steigerwald tells Nick Gillespie in the latest Reason Podcast, you learn that nothing is new, everything was worse, and what you thought was simple or true was not. When you look back at '48 and you see this stuff, and Ray Sprigle's reporting, he was a reporter. When he heard guys in Atlanta say, "Oh, Atlanta's a great city for black people. Nothing ever happens here." Well, he went down the courthouse and dug up some records and he came up with three cases in the last two years where young black males, this sounds a little familiar, were shot dead by cops or trolley conductors who were armed at the time and were able to shoot anybody. They were shot dead and the defense was always, "Oh, I thought he was reaching for a gun or something. I shot him dead," and they all got off. I mean, you could take those examples and put them in the paper today and people would say, "Well, yeah."... I have such a deeper appreciation for the punishment that black people received from their government for so long and the crass politics that perpetuated it. Read Sprigle's original series here. Produced by Ian Keyser. Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/322279622&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0"> Don't miss a single Reason podcast! Archive here. Subscribe at iTunes. Follow us at SoundCloud. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to Reason magazine (print or digital) for just $15. This is a rush transcript. It has not been checked for spelling or errors—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: Today we're talking with Bill Steigerwald. He's a longtime newspaper man, author of several books, most recently an incredible story called 30 Days a Black Man: The Forgotten Story That Exposed the Jim Crow South. Bill, thanks for talking to us. Bill Steigerwald: Hi. How are you doing? Nick Gillespie: You worked in Pittsburgh newspapers for a long time, and this news story is about a guy named Ray Sprigle who was at the [...]



100 Years After the Russian Revolution, Russians Are Still Paying

Tue, 18 Apr 2017 07:00:00 -0400

On April 16, 1917, which is to say 100 years ago last Sunday, a train from Helsinki arrived at the Finland Station in Petrograd. The "sealed train" originated in Zürich, Switzerland. It carried on board 32 Russian revolutionaries, including Vladimir Lenin and his wife, as well as millions of German "goldmarks." Lenin, who desperately wanted to return home from his Swiss exile in order to take over the leadership of the Russian Bolsheviks, needed German logistical help to cross the Eastern Front as well as financial help to foment a revolt against the sitting Russian government of Alexander Kerensky. Both were duly furnished by the German imperial high command. As such, Russia experienced two revolutions in 1917. The February revolution deposed the Tsar, while the October revolution put the Bolsheviks in charge. Subsequent to the Bolshevik putsch, Russia withdrew from the Great War, thus allowing the Germans to move their divisions to the Western Front to face the combined might of the French, the British and the Americans. Once in charge, Lenin established one-party dictatorship and the first gulags. The Soviet Union, with its accompanying horrors, was born. Communist apologists have often blamed Bolshevik crimes on Joseph Stalin, who took over the Russian government following Lenin's death in 1924. The Russian historian and politician Alexander Yakovlev, who headed the Presidential Commission for the Victims of Political Repression, however, noted that the "truth is that in punitive operations Stalin did not think up anything that was not there under Lenin: executions, hostage taking, concentration camps, and all the rest." Violence was inherent in the Bolshevik revolution. Per Lenin: "If we are not ready to shoot a saboteur and White Guardist [i.e., anti-communist Russian soldiers], what sort of revolution is that?" Estimating the cost of the Bolshevik rule is not easy, although Yakovlev argues that 20 million lives were lost to state-sponsored violence, malnutrition, man-made famine, slave labor, etc. That seems like a very conservative estimate. Looking at other consequences of Russian communism, the story is similarly depressing. Comparing Russia with any other country is difficult. Russia's geography and history are unique. That said, I went back to Maddison's data in search of a European country that was, roughly speaking, at Russia's level of economic development in 1917. With average annual per capita income of $1,212 (in 1990 dollars), Portugal was closest to Russia's $1,085. Where would Russia be, had it matched the economic performance of Portugal—a country that is even today considered as something of a European basket case? Let data tell the story. 1. GDP per capita, per person, per year, 1990 Geary-Khamis dollars (1917-2010) 2. Life expectancy, years, 1960-2015 3. Democracy vs. autocracy, scale -10 (worst) to 10 (best), 1917-2015 4. Civil liberties, scale 1 (best) to 7 (worst), 1972-2015 5. Political rights, scale 1(best) to 7 (worst), 1972-2015 [...]



Documentaries Put Spotlight on War Propaganda

Fri, 14 Apr 2017 15:00:00 -0400

Five Came Back. Available now on Netflix. American Experience: The Great War. PBS. Monday, April 10, 9 p.m. Growing up, I was completely absorbed by a CBS documentary series called The 20th Century that aired on weekends from 1958 1966. Every other episode, it seemed, was about a war. At the time, I thought the main reason was probably that Walter Cronkite, the narrator, had become famous as a combat correspondent. That may have had something to do with it, but with the passage of years and a widened perspective, I've come to suspect that the real reason is that war—preparing for it, fighting it, recovering from it, and arguing about what it meant—was the century's principal activity. From the decapitation fad during the Boxer War that opened the century to the trigger-happy streets of Mogadishu that closed it, war was a global avocation. TV this week takes a look back at the century's two biggest bangs with a pair of magnificent three-part documentaries. PBS' American Experience series spends six hours dissecting World War I (part of it, anyway; we'll get back to that), while Netflix explores how Hollywood enthusiastically picked up the propaganda gun during World War II with Five Came Back. Both shows convey an astonishing amount of information with a mixture of style and simplicity that other filmmakers could study to immense profit. World War I, as American Experience: The Great War paraphrases a conclusion already reached by the cast of Friends many years ago, is probably the biggest event in U.S. history of which Americans know next to nothing. In some ways, that will still be true even if they watch The Great War, which views the events strictly through the lens of how Americans were affected. The welter of royal bloodlines and backdoor treaties that turned a seemingly isolated event—the assassination of an Austrian nobleman by a Serbian teenager—into a worldwide conflagration involving Russia, France, England, Italy, Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria, Japan, and the United States is barely explored. Nor are many of the war's geopolitical shockwaves. Even the implosion of Russia's czarist government, which would eventually result in a Cold War that for nearly five decades threatened to turn apocalyptically hot, only gets a minute or two. What The Great War does do, in truly spectacular fashion. is limn the voracious expansion of the American government midwifed by World War I. When Woodrow Wilson's uncertain attempts at neutrality floundered and he called for a declaration of war in 1917 because "the world must be made safe for democracy," it made the United States unique among the combatants, notes a historian in The Great War: "It was not fighting for survival. It was fighting for an ideal." But as The Great War documents in horrifying detail, that ideal was the creation of a Leviathan state with unprecedented power: to draft young men and send them to a foreign war. To set price controls on food and impose dietary restrictions. To arrest and even deport political dissidents. To create a powerful government propaganda organ aimed not at enemy nations but the American people. (It expanded from one employee to about 100,000 in a couple of months.) To send goon squads known as Liberty Loan Committees roaming neighborhoods offering deals on war bonds that couldn't be refused. Wilson's actions did not go without dissent (signs at a protest march in New York City: MR. PRESIDENT, WHY NOT MAKE AMERICA SAFE FOR DEMOCRACY?) and dissent did not go without punishment. Wilson demanded, and got, a new Espionage Act that made it a crime to collect, record and disseminate information "harmful to the war effort," and he wielded it like an axe against the anti-war movement. By the fall of 1917, the federal government opened prison camps in Utah, Georgia, and North Carolina to house all the "security threats" Wilson's Justice Dep[...]



Adam Smith Needs a Paper Clip

Thu, 13 Apr 2017 06:00:00 -0400

Adam Smith famously used a pin factory to illustrate the advantages of specialization, choosing this "very trifling manufacture" because the different tasks were performed under one roof: "One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on, is a peculiar business, to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper; and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some manufactories, are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will sometimes perform two or three of them." By improving workers' skills and encouraging purpose-built machinery, the division of labor leads to miraculous productivity gains. Even a small and ill-equipped manufacturer, Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations, could boost each worker's output from a handful of pins a day to nearly 5,000. In the early 19th century, that number jumped an order of magnitude with the introduction of American inventor John Howe's pin-making machine. It was "one of the marvels of the age, reported on in every major journal and encyclopedia of the time," writes historian of technology Steven Lubar. In 1839, the Howe factory had three machines making 24,000 pins a day—and the inventor was clamoring for pin tariffs to offset the nearly 25 percent tax that pin makers had to pay on imported brass wire, a reminder that punitive tariffs hurt domestic manufacturers as well as consumers. "Considering the great quantity and value of pins used in this country—and their importance as an article of general use, and convenience, if not of necessity," Howe wrote, "it would seem reasonable that encouragement should be given to an attempt to manufacture them; or at least that no obstacle arising out of the past legislation of our government, should be allowed to remain in the way of such an undertaking." So what happened to all those pins? Nowadays, we think of straight pins as sewing supplies. But they weren't always a specialty product. In Smith's time and for a century after, pins were a multipurpose fastening technology. Straight pins functioned as buttons, snaps, hooks and eyes, safety pins, zippers, and Velcro. They closed ladies' bodices, secured men's neckerchiefs, and held on babies' diapers. A prudent 19th century woman always kept a supply at hand, leading a Chicago Tribune writer to opine that the practice encouraged poor workmanship in women's clothes: "The greatest scorner of woman is the maker of the readymade, who would not dare to sew on masculine buttons with but a single thread, yet will be content to give the feminine hook and eye but a promise of fixedness, trusting to the pin to do the rest." Most significantly, pins fastened paper. Before Scotch tape or command-v, authors including Jane Austen used them to cut and paste manuscript revisions. The Bodleian Library in Oxford maintains an inventory of "dated and datable pins" removed from manuscripts going as far back as 1617. Pin sales grew along with record-keeping and bureaucracy—the unfairly derided systems necessary to operate an enterprise of any scale. "The expanded market for pins came from expanded uses in business and administrative record-keeping, as well as in clothing," says economic historian Beverly Lemire. Before paper clips or staples, pins gave businesses an inexpensive, unobtrusive way to keep pieces of paper together. Compared to ribbons or cords that required holes or sealing wax, they marked a major advance. "My guess would be that the expansion of great trading companies—like the East India Company—as well as the multiplication of shops and shopkeepers were a big part of the demand for pins," Lemire says. "Bank [...]



Guerrilla Lobs Bombs at Romanticized History of ‘70s Violence

Fri, 07 Apr 2017 15:30:00 -0400

Guerrilla. Showtime. Sunday, April 16, 9 p.m. Before we get to everything else about Showtime's Guerrilla—how it's intelligent, insightful, resonant, well-acted and all that—let's deal with the mysterious question of why a show about an underground black-nationalist terrorist group of the 1970s, written and produced by Americans, would be set in Great Britain. To be sure, London had its share (actually, much more than its share) of political terrorism in the 1970s. But nearly all of it was connected to the issue of Northern Ireland. Neither the British black-power movement nor the government response to it ever reached the extreme levels of violence that wracked their counterparts in the United States; there was no Mayfair chapter of the Black Panthers. The 1970s underground group that most closely resembles the one portrayed in Guerrilla was the Black Liberation Army, the Panther offshoot for which JoAnne Chesimard, a.k.a. Assata Shakur, robbed banks and shot it out with cops, but it was a purely American affair. The most obvious answer for the show's peculiar venue is that it's a co-production with Great Britain's Sky TV, which seemed to suggest that Guerrilla's creator-writer-director John Ridley, who won a screenwriting Oscar for 12 Years a Slave, couldn't round up enough funding within the United States. Why that should be is just one of those Hollywood imponderables. Guerrilla is a thoughtful and undidactic look at a time when the left went from nutty to nihilistic. In one 18-month stretch of 1971-72, the FBI recorded more than 2,500 bombings in the United States, more than five a day. And much of the revolutionary violence was directed not at the war in Vietnam, where American involvement was in steep decline, but at racial iniquities. Underground American groups like the Weathermen and the Symbionese Liberation Army explicitly declared that their violence was committed to combat black oppression, even if the fingers that were pulling the triggers or lighting the fuses were, in many cases, white. The Black Lives Matter movement is different in many, many ways, but the echoes are there nonetheless. Frieda Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) and Babou Ceesay ('71) play the politically engaged young lovers Jas and Marcus. Marcus is a black teacher whose revolutionary impulses are strictly cerebral; trying to blaze the way for the fulfillment of Ho Chi Minh's dictum that "when the prison gates are opened, the real dragon will fly out," he spends his spare time teaching classes at a London jail, educating future cadres. Jas, a nurse and a red diaper baby with daddy issues (her father is in jail in India for killing soldiers), is less patient. "I have to be with someone who wants to do things," she warns Marcus. They're both jolted to action when a black friend is beaten to death by cops at a protest rally. But they immediately learn how easily violence can spiral out of control, when, breaking a Marxist street criminal named Dhari (Nathaniel Martello-White, Red Tails) out of jail in hopes that he can provide their movement with more muscular leadership, they accidentally kill a guard. Marcus is stricken by the blood on his hands, even when the hard-boiled Dhari scoffs, "No use talking you didn't do this, you didn't do that—you're in it." Jas, on the other hand, is enchanted to hear news reports speculate that their little group must be veteran revolutionaries, perhaps even an offshoot of the Panthers. "We're so fucking cool," she exclaims to Marcus, even as her newfound notoriety spurs her into new fits of rage. Ridley's keenly observant script clearly draws on the multiplying accounts of life underground by 1970s survivors who've come in from the cold, not only for details of the grungy day-to-day existence (Jas and Marcus at one point are reduced to grabbing scraps of food off un-bussed trays of dirty re[...]



The Myth of Isolationism

Wed, 05 Apr 2017 16:40:00 -0400

I'm always happy to see someone taking on the myth that America pursued an "isolationist" foreign policy between world wars one and two. So I recommend Andrew Bacevich's latest piece for The American Conservative, which makes the point concisely:

(image) The oft-repeated claim that in the 1920s and 1930s the United States raised the drawbridges, stuck its head in the sand, and turned its back on the world is not only misleading, but also unhelpful....Here, by way of illustrating some of those relevant facts, is a partial list of places beyond the boundaries of North America, where the United States stationed military forces during the interval between the two world wars: China, the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii, Panama, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. That's not counting the U.S. Marine occupations of Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic during a portion of this period. Choose whatever term you like to describe the U.S military posture during this era—incoherent comes to mind—but isolationism doesn't fill the bill.

Bacevich, by the way, is responding to a Richard North Patterson column that doesn't merely mention isolationism; it invokes "the isolationism in Europe and America which precipitated World War II." Bacevich is too kind to dwell on that phrase "isolationism in Europe," but I'll be scratching my head over it for a while. Does Patterson mean the Munich agreement? That would be a bizarre use of the word isolationist, but every other possible reference I can think of is even stranger.




Remy: April Fools!

Sat, 01 Apr 2017 09:03:00 -0400

Remy explores some of the great April Fools' Day gags in American history.

Written and Performed by Remy. Music tracks and mastering by Ben Karlstrom. Camera by Austin and Meredith Bragg. Edited by Austin Bragg. Music tracks and mastering by Ben Karlstrom.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel.
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Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.

-----

Lyrics:

Give me liberty or give me death!
Let us fight for independence up until our final breath!
The one regret that we should all have in our minds
We only have one life to give up for the future of mankind!

April Fools! A jestful jab!
How about we give ourselves free health care
and stick our grandkids with the tab?
I'm talking penis pills for you and you and you!
April Fools! April Fools! April Fools!

Four score and seven years has been the span
Fair weather brought a crowd I see
you all must be Penguins fans
Thousands sacrificed their lives upon this turf
To ensure that a free nation shall not perish from the earth!

April Fools! A playful plea!
They died so we could monitor your browser history
and use your phone to watch you number two
Must we give thought to the price paid by these tools?! (No!)
April Fools! April Fools! April Fools!

Ask not about yourself
Ask what you can do for your country
leave selfishness on the shelf
May the communists abroad hear this reprise
We shall pay any cost to ensure that liberty survives!

April Fools! Just cheeky chants!
There's a missile crisis! Yes and it is happening in your pants
So take these free pills, we'll send China IOUs
April Fools! April Fools! April Fools!

April Fools! They died in vain!
Life is dangerous, just ask people under Harrison Ford's planes
Must we give thought to the price paid by these tools?
April Fools! April Fools! April Fools!

A federal workforce so small and lean!
Will they be fluent in Latin?
Yes! Well, if you count "per diem"…

I'm talking free stuff for you and you and you
and you and you and you and you and you
and you and you and you and you...




The Neighborhood of Make-Believe Prepares for War

Fri, 31 Mar 2017 13:15:00 -0400

For a week in 1983, life took a dark turn in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Over the course of five episodes of Mister Rogers, a mixture of miscommunication and anxiety convinced King Friday that another neighborhood nearby was stockpiling weapons. The king then ordered a major arms buildup himself, diverting money from the education budget and issuing an order to "conscript everyone in the neighborhood to help put the bombs together." Some of the other characters were willing to go along with this. ("King Friday wouldn't have us doing anything that was going to hurt anybody. He's always trying to keep people safe!" said X the Owl. "We shouldn't call them 'bombs,' though. We should call them 'surprise treats' or something like that."). But the orders did prompt some dissent from Lady Elaine Fairchilde, here as always the puppet most likely to call bullshit on King Friday. The tensions kept ramping up, with gas masks and air raid drills, until Lady Elaine and Lady Aberlin discerned that the other neighborhood had actually been building a bridge, not bombs. This comment on the arms race aired the same month as The Day After, a TV movie about a nuclear war. There was a big wave of worry about whether that film was too scary for children to see, and there were rumors that the Mister Rogers storyline was intended as an alternative to The Day After for young audiences. In fact it had been conceived separately and the timing was a coincidence. Eventually the episodes were withdrawn from rotation. But this month the first two installments of the sequence turned up on YouTube, leading to what may be my all-time favorite Daily Beast headline: The article below that headline concedes that it is unlikely these were posted to protest the president's proposed arms buildup. Though I must admit I kind of like the idea that someone is trying to communicate with the White House by quietly adding old episodes of children's television to YouTube. Anyway. After word spread that these were online, the copyright cadres swung into action and YouTube took them down. (Which is odd, since plenty of other old Mister Rogers episodes are on the site.) Someone else has reposted them, and I'm embedding that video below; the two Neighborhood of Make-Believe sequences start at the 16:19 and 42:09 marks. Watch 'em while you can: src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/9dFvkUw9-08" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> I can't show you parts three through five, but you can read summaries of them here, here, and here. Incidentally, the episodes embedded above also include some lessons about banks and mints. These spill into the Neighborhood of Make-Believe story when King Friday gets his treasurer Mr. Newmoney on the phone and inquires about how much cash is available for war production. (For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)[...]



Beauty and the Tax-Fattened Oligarch

Thu, 30 Mar 2017 13:15:00 -0400

(image) As you know, "Beauty and the Beast" is a fairy tale about a wealthy, powerful creature who holds a woman captive until Stockholm Syndrome kicks in and she learns to love Big Brother. Now that a new version of the story has hit the theaters, Dan Sanchez reminds us that the Beast's bride isn't his only victim:

As the new film's opening sequence makes explicit, the prince paid for his lavish lifestyle by levying taxes—so high that even lefty Hollywood regards them excessive—on the hard-working, commercial townspeople....The party-animal prince being transformed into a sulking beast may have amounted to a 100% tax cut for the town; no wonder the townspeople are so cheerful and thriving when we first meet them!

All princes and other nobles, after all, are descended from marauding warriors who settled down and transmuted plunder and tribute (protection money) into taxes and other feudal obligations.

This reminds me of my idea for a new version of "Sleeping Beauty"—one that focuses not on the comings and goings of various ruling-class parasites but on the prosperity that surely swept the countryside while the castle slept for 100 years.

Anyway, Sanchez (who claims he doesn't want to be a "childhood-ruining killjoy," but c'mon, that's half the fun) uses the new film as a nice hook for some anti-feudal, pro-commercial history. To read the rest, go here.




Harlots Doesn’t Sell Out When Detailing Lives of 18th Century British Hookers

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 15:30:00 -0400

Harlots. Hulu. Available March 29. Somewhere in the vast terrain between the hooker-as-fairytale-princess fantasy of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman and the prim, grim Victorian sociology of Stephen Crane's Maggie: A Woman of the Streets lies Harlots, Hulu's odd but engrossing new drama about life inside an 18th-century London brothel. Screenwriter Moira Buffini, one of the five British women who produce, write, and direct Harlots, said in unveiling the project that the goal was "everything from the whore's-eye view." The result is that the women in Harlots are neither glamorous courtesans nor broken flowers, and their depiction is never erotic. There's plenty of nudity, of both sexes, but you've seen commercials for bladder medication that were sexier. The Harlots hookers don't make much money, but it's a living—and they regard the cops and and do-gooder moralists trying to close their house less as saviors than as a circling wolfpack. When a judge who's been asked to close the bordello as a public nuisance haughtily declares that "I grieve for the desperate women I have seen today who, faced with starvation, have sold their flesh," the prostitutes in the courtroom exchange looks laden with the unspoken question: "So you think we'll be better off in jail?" Harlots opens in 1763 with a prologue that claims a fifth of the women in London were hookers. That runs far ahead of police estimates of the day, but there's little doubt prostitution was a major industry. One of the show's early scenes, in which the women amuse themselves by reading their own notices in a Consumer Reports-style guide to the various local hookers and their skill sets ("one of the finest, fattest figures as fully finished for fun and frolick as fertile fancy ever formed...") is drawn from documented history. The brothel at the heart of Harlots is operated by Margaret Wells (Samantha Morton, nominated for an Oscar in 2002 as the troubled young immigrant mother of In America), a veteran of the trade whose virginity was bartered away for a pair of shoes at age 10 by her own mother. Margaret, buffeted by high rent and increasing graft demands by cops, hopes to get a much higher price for the maidenhead of her teenaged daughter Lucy (British TV actress Eloise Smyth). And she's playing the even more lucrative long game with slightly older but much more reluctant daughter Charlotte, who she's trying to place as an indentured consort to a wealthy nobleman. But her plans must be dangerously accelerated when cops raid her house, putting her out of business at least temporarily, and a rival madame (Lesley Manville of the British version of Law & Order) starts raiding her corps of whores. It turns out these two events are not coincidental. In a classic example of the regulatory-economics parable known as Baptists and Bootleggers, the other madame has been funding a decency group to attack Margaret's brothel and clear away the competition. That plot description sounds bleak, which is not entirely fair. Harlots burbles with the bawdy workplace humor of the hookers, from their theories about the sexual ontology of the reformers (the blind leader of the decency group, they speculate, lost her eyesight after putting her eyes out upon seeing her first penis on her wedding night) to, tart—heh-heh—remarks about job training. Told she must undergo instruction in cultural refinements, one of the women inquires, wide-eyed: "So, you will teach my cunny French?" The humor extends to the casting of Charlotte, the steely daughter resisting indenturement. She's played (quite well) by Jessica Brown Findlay, that sweet and gentle Lady Sibyl of Downton Abbey, whose death in childbirth so unhinged PBS cultists that the Washington [...]



Nuclear Home Movies

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 14:05:00 -0400

Nuclear test films would be eerie and hypnotic even if they didn't have the extra resonance they reap by representing the power to inflict mass death. And now there's more of them around: The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is digitizing declassified atomic footage, and this month it started posting the clips online. Go to the lab's YouTube page, and you can watch the government nuking the water...

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/XnrLY-phipw?list=PLvGO_dWo8VfcmG166wKRy5z-GlJ_OQND5" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">

...the sky...

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/L_jFQw78uzo?list=PLvGO_dWo8VfcmG166wKRy5z-GlJ_OQND5" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">

...and the space beneath the ground:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/szbb00ncNNs?list=PLvGO_dWo8VfcmG166wKRy5z-GlJ_OQND5" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">

To peruse the whole catalog, go here. Bruce Conner makes art from atomic-test footage here. Stanley Kubrick makes art from atomic-test footage here. The health consequences of being near such tests are explored here. Past editions of the Friday A/V Club are here.