Showing posts with label actual history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label actual history. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Happy Birthday, Neil Armstrong - Reboot the Suit

Today marks the birthday of Neil Armstong, the first human to step foot on The Moon.

Next time you're feeling cocky, just remember, Neil Armstrong walked on that shiny thing up there that's affecting the tides and spawning werewolves.

I know Armstrong passed years ago, but why not get him a present?  He got you one.  He went to THE MOON.

There's a Kickstarter going on that's already reached it's financial goal.  The Smithsonian is raining funds to restore the spacesuit Neil Armstrong wore wandering around on THE MOON.

Now they're in stretch goals, and the big one is to raise funds to restore the Mercury suit for Alan Shepard, the first American in space.

Restored, we'll all be able to see these suits down at the Air and Space Museum in DC.  Already a pretty fantastic place, but who wouldn't want to see even better space displays?  And see the very suits of America's real life heroes?

Sure, you aren't helping some dweeb from BFE fund their dream project of a Yu-Gi-Oh fan film, but you are, you know, supporting things that actually matter and aren't a waste of time and resources.  I mean, just...   ugh.

If you're wondering why the Smithsonian needs to go to Kickstarter...  well, (a) it's a publicly funded institution, and we haven't been great about funding public institutions the past decade or so, and (b) what money they do have could also be allocated to work on less high-profile items as well as the suit, so you're making the Smithsonian budget go farther (further?).

Here's that link again.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Today you should thank James Madison for the Bill of Rights

So.  The Bill of Rights.

He's here to protect your personal liberty (millennials, this is Bill the Cat and he was very relevant at one point.  This sight gag is hilarious to your elders).

It's not that the idea of a listing of citizens' rights hadn't been a part of government documentation before.  The states had included similar language in their own constitutions.  But when we got close to wrapping up our own Constitution, James Madison himself - the guy who brought the Constitution draft to the meeting that became the Constitutional Convention, didn't see the point.

Madison thought that we had that stuff sorted and that the Constitution already covered what the government considered a right.  But...  not so much.  Figuring out what was important, what people would fight over, etc... was seen as a hindrance in just getting our feet under us, and so it became the work of the first Congresses to sort it out.

The Anti-Federalists really did want that Bill of Rights, and made their case loudly and often as it would help protect individual liberty.  You'll notice the Bill of Rights gets brought up a lot still today when it comes to how we relate to how our Government is allowed to deal with us (although people tend to cite their favorite Amendment while ignoring others, and interpret the Amendments to suit their own needs as often as they do their religious text of choice).

Having done everyone's work and worrying for them, this is Madison at age 32.

When the first Congress went into session, the Bill of Rights was the hot topic, and even James Madison eventually decided this was a good idea, if for no other reason that to belay the likelihood NOT having such a thing would lead to another go at an all-new Constitution, and we'd never get on with it as a Country.  This is one of those places where you realize people are talking past one another, or are in "violent agreement" - seemingly arguing but actually wanting the same thing for different reasons.  Madison agreed that we should have those Amendments so long as they were there to define personal liberty, and - apparently the only one willing to do any heavy lifting - Madison also drafted the Bill of Rights, but as inserts right into the body of the Constitution.

And, welcome to government work kids, because now it went to committee.  And to the House and the Senate and back to Committee, all the while with our favorite workaholic, Madison, shepherding the process along.

Then, of course, you have to go out to the State legislatures for ratification... and...  ugh.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Putting Together the Constitution

After the British had thrown in the towel, the United States was faced with the same problem every teenager faces that day when they move out of their parents' house - sure, you have a whole of freedom, and that also means you've got the freedom to actually totally botch this whole "we're on our own" bit.

"Seriously?  No one brought even one pen?"  

We started off with something called "The Articles of Confederation".  A pretty solid document that took 3 years to ratify.  It also almost immediately demonstrated that a gentlemen's agreement to act like a country sometimes but to have completely separate entities doing their own thing with only a bare central government doesn't for a nation make.  Believe me, I work across multiple universities in a sort of handshake agreement, and you can lose a mind-boggling amount of energy corralling people when they have no real responsibility to each other.  And I'm not out trying to make treaties with France.*

Sometimes a little central authority is a good idea.  Like, when you need a central navy, maybe, and not just folks in boats with cannons saying "oh, yeah, we're the Cleveland navy.  Totally legit."

There was also no real authority for taxation, which meant no money in the treasury to pay debts, defend ourselves in the future, etc...  And foreign policy can be a bit sticky when you have no real head of state.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Preamble to the US Declaration of Independence is the Most Boss Copy Put to Parchment

I kind of assume most Americans are aware of the situation as of July 4th, 1776.  Maybe not.  

War had broken out between England and the Colonies.  The work of the First Continental Congress had not been able to persuade King George that rebellion was imminent were the Intolerable Acts not repealed.  In the wake of Lexington and Concord, the Second Continental Congress convened in May of 1775, ready to begin forming an organized effort behind the military action already underway.

Curiously, it took some time for the Colonists to decide that the gunfighting between their own soldiers and British armies might mean they really needed to formally break with England.  Granted, some of this was due to the long process of managing communication between the colonies and their representatives in Philadelphia.

Finally, in June 1776 the situation logically seemed to call for a formal statement, something to be shared not just with the public, but which would communicate the intentions of the Continental Congress to the world.

Thomas Jefferson was tapped to write the document.  The work would receive word-smithing from John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, but you can't argue with the results.

"Yes, but instead of 's', let's use 'f' everywhere.  I think it'll really take off."

Saturday, June 27, 2015

This Moment In History: Supreme Court Rules for Equality for Same-Sex Marriage

Taking a break from pop-culture commentary and irrelevant minutia to reflect on the overall cultural thunderstrike that came across the internet this morning.  The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, has legalized same-sex marriage in the United States.  

No doubt the armies of lawyers and pundits are lining up to stoke the fires and make some money off good old fashioned rage.  It's to be expected.  But today I think we broke through another barrier.  We abandoned separate rules for a class of our citizenry for a common definition of the most important conscious relationship most people ever enter.

I am aware not all of my readership shares my belief that this ruling reflects part of America's steady progress in recognizing the rights of all its citizens.  Here I have to break with you, but I hope you know, it's with an olive branch extended.  Recognizing the equality of love between two people as they define that relationship, not hemmed in by concepts of gender or adherence to non-legal codes, whether the Supreme Court had stepped in or not, seems to me an act of human decency.  At the heart of that of all of this is the word "love", and it seems that a victory for love should only be amplified by an extension of some of the same with an open hand rather than a closed fist.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Tragedy in South Carolina

What can you say in the face of this kind of horror?  

Today is a day to mourn.  Tomorrow and afterward, we need to be better and to never, ever take another excuse nor tolerate the terrorizing and murder of our fellow citizens by anyone.

Speak up.  Say something.  We're a better nation than this.  Humanity is better.

Remember Charleston.  Remember every injustice.  No more excuses.  No more silence.  We shouldn't have returned to the methods and hatred of the 1960's in our lifetime.  Make it a better tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Blaze Starr Merges With The Infinite

Famed lady of Burlesque, Blaze Starr, has passed.

I have no idea how Blaze Starr first entered my consciousness, but no doubt it involved the internet.  She was of the era of Bettie Page, Tempest Storm, Lilli St. Cyr and Irving Klaw, but was more a part of the burlesque circuit than the "mail order photo" industry.  It's unlikely most of polite society in the 1950 and 60's either knew of her or would admit to knowing of her.  And that's with affairs with folks like Louisiana Governor Earl Long that led to a movie biopic containing her name (Blaze from 1989).

But the internet and public memory is a funny thing.  Despite having a path that would leave most folks an anonymous cypher, Blaze Starr has managed to permeate the edges of the American psyche for at least a half-century.  It takes all kinds (and we're all here - as my grandmother used to say).

Here's to a trailblazer of sorts, and an underground icon.

Thanks to Victoria for the link.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Trailer for "Tower" doc looks pretty amazing


I grew up in Austin, TX, attended the University of Texas and recently received my "ten year pin" for my time working at the University (I haven't quite spent my whole career there).

If you aren't aware, after killing his mother and wife, Charles Whitman climbed to the top of the tower at the center of the University of Texas campus - a building which is over 27 stories - and killed people on the stairwell and then began shooting from the observation deck.

Whitman killed 16 people (in 2001, a 17th died of complications for injuries sustained that day), and more than 30 additional people were wounded.

At the time, Austin was a sleepy college town in the middle of a long, hot summer, and summer session is never the busiest of times on campus.   The impact was devastating, and the shootings were still discussed and an impetus for campus policy when I was there in the 1990's.

Watching just the trailer, I was surprised that my reaction was genuinely visceral.  I've been up in the elevator, I've stood on the observation deck, I walk across the plaza routinely, and those are all places I live and work.  And I am well aware all of this happened here.  And could happen again tomorrow.  After all, we had an active shooter in my building just about five years ago.

The after effects of the tower shootings were larger than you'd believe.  The event helped lead to the establishment of campus PD's across the country as well as SWAT team development.

This film looks to cover the personal stories of the victims, and I'd rather that be told than another step-by-step recounting of Whitman's final days and hours.  Good people were caught in the massacre, and it's important to remember all of them as well.

Looking forward to the film.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"Texas Rising" - a History Channel attempt at legitimacy


The History Channel decided that they needed to make a 10 hour mini-series exploring the romantic revolutionary war period of The Lone Star State, an era in the 1830's when the winds of change blew over a few hundred miles of uninhabitable desert and scrub land and a bunch of people kicked out of every decent state in the nation hid out here until Mexico got sick of them.

As always, a little background:

I didn't move to Texas until 1979, but I did grow up here, between Dallas, Houston and Austin, and I've been lucky enough to spend time in San Antonio.  I'm partial to the state, but I am also well aware of our checkered past and present.  I do love my state, but it's often the way you love a fun but very disappointing relative.  Say, a brother.  Just for example.  Purely hypothetically.

This guy was Governor for almost my entire adult life.  and, he'd like to be your President.

Growing up in Texas, you're sort of constantly inundated in Texas history in public school (or, so it was when I was a kid), and names like Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston are up there with your American founding fathers.  Names like William B. Travis and David Crockett have passed right into mythology as martyrs of freedom.  Also, we have cows and horses and we're all pretty fond of Tex-Mex and barbecue, so we have a lot to offer kids.  On top of this, I was 11 in 1986 when we had the State Sesquicentennial (that's the 150th birthday), so it was a whole thing when I was in 4th grade.  Prince Charles came!  It was a major deal, man.

In college I had an extra credit class free and wound up taking "Texas History from Prehistory - 1845".

So, and this is a wildly unpopular notion, but there is, in fact, a bit of a difference between the legendary version of history as is taught in public school K-12, and what actually happened and why.  Or, at least, an interpretation of history that doesn't necessarily reflect the narrative of the progress of rich white dudes as a sort of destiny for all.  I know many people find this idea upsetting, especially uncles at Thanksgivings.  But, it is also true, full stop.

I wound up taking the follow up Texas History class, and, ha ha, also got myself a history degree (woooo!  so full of good ideas), focusing as much as possible on Southwest US History in a program that was much more about a broad base of history.  So, ask me to try to remember Roman History sometime.  It is super awkward because it's mostly me blinking at you then saying "uh, aqueducts".

When I saw the History Channel had decided to make a dramatized version of Texas history, I was skeptical.  They don't really have a track record that I'm aware of, and of late, most of their history has involved bearded people pretending to be rednecks on TV and lots of hunting of bigfoots and whatnot.

And right I was.  This show is terrible.  And weirdly so.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

April 15th, 1865 - 150 years since the assassination of Abraham Lincoln

April 15th, 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre in Washington DC.

Lincoln in April, 1865

On the evening of April 14th, Lincoln was shot point blank while sitting in the Presidential box while watching a play.  On April 9th, General Lee of the Confederate States of America had surrendered to General Grant at Appomatox, and the war between the states was effectively concluded.

Were it fiction, the assassination might be considered a weirdly indulgent bit of storytelling in a sprawling tale of the original sin of the birth of the United States.  As a very real event, Lincoln's death stands as a moment of personal tragedy that somehow echoes as harshly as the four years of war and hundreds of thousands lost.  The timing of the assassination meant that we never saw a coda to the 16th presidency, would never question Lincoln's handling of Reconstruction or witness Lincoln watching Washington DC come back together as the capital of a single nation.  We would never see Lincoln as a private citizen no longer with the weight of the nation resting upon his shoulders.

There's plenty of information out there about Lincoln's assassin, and I won't belabor any of the details of Lincoln's murder or the story of his murderer.

Instead, I'll remember that Lincoln was a man of his times, but a remarkable one at that.  In the midst of the war (and historians will never tire of debating the motives of the action) Lincoln produced the Emancipation Proclamation.

While the nation fought a miserable war against itself, Lincoln took the final step that the states that had fled for the confederacy feared he would upon his election, and forever changed the course of the nation.  

And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.

And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.

This act, which Lincoln would ultimately perform as a proclamation rather than by way of political maneuvering or clout.  And, as the war drew to a close, the 13th Amendment was proposed, but Lincoln would not live to see its ratification.

And, on that night in Ford's Theater, a believer in abstract causes that would always trump the dignity of his fellow man, sought revenge for the shame he felt had been bestowed upon his state and the hardships he felt the South would continue to endure.  Failing to see the irony in his own battle cry of "Sic semper tyrannis!", he fled the stage, hobbled, to die badly in barn, disowned by the very people he thought would hail him as a hero and protect him.

I don't need to tell you much else about Lincoln.  He's all but a folk hero to us here in the States, and probably beyond.  His funeral train was met by endless masses, and he continues to inspire generation after generation of Americans.  The Lincoln Monument in Washington DC stands as a stark reminder of not just the man, but of his times and of the great penance paid by the United States for our moral failings, his death a closing note to the cost of all that had preceded it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Billie Holiday hits the Century Mark

It's tough to top Billie Holiday.  She's undoubtedly one of the most important vocal performers of the 20th Century, and certainly one of the most recognizable voices since recorded and broadcast music sprung into existence.

Today marks the birthday of Ms. Eleanora Fagan, born April 7th, 1915 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Holiday's biography also reads like the blueprint for a terribly depressing biopic, but it's also a remarkable American story.

This weekend I tried to watch Annie Lennox, who I have admired since I was a kid, perform her new concert, Nostalgia, on PBS, recorded in front of an upper-crust audience at LA's Orpheum Theater.  And, while I understand that many performers sooner or later hit a point where they explore The Great American Songbook - Lennox performed a few of Holiday's standards, and I found the thing puzzling enough I turned it off.  But, taking apart what was happening and for what audience could take a few hundred pages and a deconstruction of cultural appropriation that would leave nobody happy.

Strange Fruit and God Bless the Child aren't owned by Billie Holiday, but they're certainly part of her catalog, and I don't blame Lennox for wanting to emulate Lady Day, but...  context.   Billie Holiday's voice, song choice and expression were formed by what amounts to an extremely troubled youth (broken home - to put it mildly - and as a kid, she ran errands in a brothel) and young womanhood (prostitute by age 15).  Holiday was part of the colorful jazz scene of Harlem from the early 1930's and onward (she was performing by age 17), and was playing with Count Basie and Artie Shaw within a few years.  Even after some very public problems, she did manage to play shows at Carnegie Hall that were very well received.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

SW Reads: The Bully Pulpit - Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and The Golden Age of Journalism

I think Picky Girl recommended this one.  I dunno.  She'll have to chime in.

He's talking about Roosevelt and Taft again.  Safe to close the post and move on,

At some point in college on a lark I picked up the Henry Pringle biography of Theodore Roosevelt, and - like a lot of folks who happened to read something about TR - ever since I've found no end to the interest in reading not just about the man, but about his times.  His political career is astounding, complete with stumbling backward into the presidency, where his reputation grew to such proportions that the US included his face on Mt. Rushmore with Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington.

I read a few reviews before putting finger to keyboard for this post, because I knew a Doris Kearns Goodwin book would have already generated plenty of bits in the press.  As evidence of the vitality of the material covered, I almost laughed when I saw what a big percentage of both reviews was dedicated not to discussing the book, but to discussing what the book covers, like a little mini-historical synopsis.

So, I'll keep it brief.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

SW Watches: The Right Stuff (1983)

I was lucky to be born into an era when the job everyone aspired to was "astronaut".  As you got older, if you were me, you realized you were going to be too tall, wear too many glasses, be just amazingly awful at pre-Calc, and maybe develop a crippling fear of heights.  I was just never going to be astronaut material.

But, yeah, like a lot of people my age and older, I was pretty space-crazy growing up.  We were living on the edge of the world of Buck Rogers and Star Trek.  And, to be a part of that seemed like being a part of the future more than anything you could do (we can quiz Matt A. on the veracity of this childhood fantasy later, but it seemed right at the time).

On my 6th birthday, the Space Shuttle Colombia took off from Kennedy (STS-1). I was well aware it was a coincidence, but it still felt like a pretty good birthday present.  Watching it with the fam is still one of those indelible childhood memories.

Two years later, the Philip Kaufman directed movie The Right Stuff (1983) was released to theaters.  Based on a Thomas Wolfe novel, it's certainly not a movie aimed at kids, but The Admiral was also not one to let the two little miscreants he'd sired run around ignorant of one of the greatest periods (if not THE greatest period) of technical achievement in human history.  Nor would he let it pass that we would not know of the flawed, insanely brave men who sat atop those rockets and came back safely.  Let alone, we might not know the name of Chuck Yeager.

I remember seeing many movies in the theater from my childhood, and certainly the memory of seeing The Right Stuff is still vivid.  While the movie was not the sort of thing I was running around play-acting afterward, I knew I'd seen something quite different and kind of astonishing.

In the years that have passed, I have no idea how many times I'd seen it, but I caught it again while Jamie and I were dating, and I remember really realizing for the first time how damn good the movie really is.  I'm always shocked not just by the mixed reactions you can get at the mention of the film, but that it's not mentioned in the same breath with other films that routinely make great movie lists.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Today is Texas Independence Day

On March 2nd, 1836 in the town of Washington on the Brazos (no, really), a group of Texans cooked up a Declaration of Independence, breaking with Mexico and establishing Texas as a Republic.

look, you have your Independence Hall, we have ours

Now, people do this all the time, but history will tell you that it only really counts if you're successful.  Otherwise, you're usually a footnote and a shallow grave.  Weirdly, the scrappy refugees from polite American society who had migrated into Texas wound up winning their brief war for independence after getting essentially massacred at The Alamo but doing pretty well at Gonzalez and Goliad, thank you very much.

On April 21, 1836, the Texian army, under the command of Sam Houston, caught up with the Mexican army, who seemed to believe that if they were behind enemy lines, so long as they were sleeping, it was a "time out".  The Texians stormed in, and in about 30 minutes soundly defeated the Mexican Army and General Antonio de Santa Ana, taking him prisoner.

I don't believe it either, and I live here.

Sam Houston instructs the captured Santa Ana to kiss his rosey red ass

Texas expected to become a state, but the balance of power in the US made this a challenge - as admitting a new slave state would make things awkward - and the concern over sparking a real war with Mexico meant that Texas would remain an independent Republic for 9 long, extremely poor years.

So, take that, Ohio.  You were never your own country and you never fought your own war with generals and cannons and everything.

Texans would go on to become obnoxious, but everyone would move here and keep letting our crackpot politicians drive the national political conversation.  


Monday, February 16, 2015

President's Day! Look Out, 'cause Here Comes Garfield

President Garfield is putting your beard game on notice, hipsters

A while back I read the book Destiny of the Republic (I think at Picky Girl's recommendation), by the really terrific Candice Millard.  The book traces the destinies of three people - our 20th President. James A. Garfield, his assassin Charles Guiteau (spoiler), and Alexander Graham Bell - our representative of the wild innovation occurring during the industrial age.

James A. Garfield was a proud son of Ohio, serving as an officer in the Civil War, including early leadership at Shiloh and enough success across campaigns that he was promoted to Major General.   However, mid-war, Garfield was asked to run for congress.  He was already a staunch abolitionist, and while that horse was already out of the barn, what with the Civil War, he immediately became a popular and successful representative due to his ability to build bridges and mend fences during such a volatile period of reintegration of the Reconstruction-era Southern states.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Anniversary of the Death of Buddy Holly

February 3rd marked the anniversary of the death of Buddy Holly, who, in 1959, died in a plane crash in Iowa alongside Ritchie Valens, JP Richardson (aka: The Big Bopper) and the pilot of the small aircraft.  Holly was only 22 years old when he died, but he left behind an amazing catalog of music that remains relevant and powerful nearly 60 years after his death.   His legacy is evident in the many generations of rock musicians who followed in his footsteps who picked up on his mix of country and blues riffs, and no less than The Beatles were obviously influenced by Holly and The Crickets work.

I don't want to dismiss the contributions of either Valens or Richardson, but I've been a Buddy Holly man since I was 13 years old, and while I may put Buddy away for a while, every year I put him back on in heavy rotation.

Monday, January 19, 2015


This fall, Jamie and I took a trip to Washington DC.  Not too far from the FDR and other memorials is the MLK memorial, facing the Jefferson Memorial across the water.

This depiction of MLK above is only part of the complex.

This is how you approach the memorial.

The entire complex is very large and impressive with relief sculpture along the walls.  I very much recommend making time for it when you're doing your DC tour.  It's really very close to the Lincoln Memorial.  And speaking of...

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Je suis Charlie

There's nothing much to add to the discussion.  Freedom of expression is a hard earned right, and on the long curve of human history - a new one from a species that tends to silence the ones asking questions.

I am sorry for the tragedy, and heartened by the collective response of the free world to such a cowardly, uncivilized affront to our principles.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Operation Overlord Anniversary

Nicole reminds me that today is the anniversary of the execution of Operation Overlord, ie: Normandy.

June the 6th, 1944.