Archive for the ‘History’ category

Mystical links to Farragut

March 27, 2011

We owe a debt of gratitude to Dan’s parents for letting us stay at their downtown timeshare for a few days last week so that we could enjoy big city downtown living.  I also owe them for making possible the discovery that there is a strong historic connection between Vallejo, CA and Farragut, TN.  Some of you may be way ahead of me … but it turns out that Admiral David Glasgow Farragut played an important role in the early history of the naval base on Mare Island in Vallejo.  From the Visit Vallejo web site:

The military history of Mare Island began on January 4, 1853 when the United States purchased the island for $83,491. In September of 1854, Commander David Glasgow Farragut and his family arrived on the island. Farragut had been sent west to personally oversee the building of a navy yard in support of the Pacific Squadron. Farragut later became a naval hero and our nation’s first Admiral for his victories at New Orleans, Vicksburg, and finally his capture of Mobile Bay during the Civil War. Although Farragut dreamed of building the first naval vessel to be constructed in the west, authorization for the ship was not received until after he left Mare Island in 1856.

Many of you will know where he was born ...

I learned this from a tour guide while on a free San Francisco city tour of downtown POPOs (Privately Owned Public Spaces).

How did it take me 13 years to figure this out?!?



March 22, 2011

That’s the Japanese word for earthquake. You know their word for tsunami.

I actually toured a nuclear power plant in Japan in 1998, on the weekend trip every graduate level seminar is required to take (we also toured a sock museum (!?!) and the port where Japanese soldiers & civilians arrived after years spent in Chinese and Soviet camps, in the decade following World War II –from the ridiculous to the unforgettable). Apart from the “character goods” in the gift shop (that is, Atom Boy and Atom Girl merch) my biggest memory was the emphasis placed on seismic safety. The tour guide assured us that the instant a major earthquake was detected, the plant would shut down safely, etc.

I don’t know much about the nuclear power industry in Japan, but I instinctively agree with Ian Welsh on this matter. Nuclear power may be the only way to tide us over to the post-oil economy (although I also know some have suggested more optimistic scenarios) but the industry that exists in Japan and the U.S. is like any other industry –prone to cutting corners in the name of profitability and coddled by “regulators” who shuttle back and forth between corporations and government. Japan is no different than the rest of the world in that respect.

On the other hand, I’ve also read that Japanese people are not panicking precisely because they are receiving good information, as opposed to the sensationalism being fed to world publics, even though TEPCO has not exactly been forthcoming about the conditions in Fukushima. When I lived there, I found Japanese news sources to be remarkably sober and informative. Japanese culture is, for better or worse, biased toward quantifiable knowledge. And I would never assume that the Japanese people’s sober response to this tragedy is cultural; it’s clearly human nature to respond altruistically to disaster.

But I know that the 1923 earthquake in Tokyo resulted in large-scale massacres of resident Koreans (who were accused of poisoning wells, etc.) and the murders (in jail) of left-wing activists rounded up by the police in the earthquake’s aftermath. Japan has been under much pressure in the last decade to become more like the United States: to reduce or renege on its social safety net, to put short-term profitability ahead of long-term value creation, to become –in short– more “efficient.” Will this become another instance of “disaster capitalism” or will it provoke a different kind of response? Japan’s northeast is the poorest, oldest (in terms of the average age of its population), least economically vibrant part of that country; it is, also, one of Japan’s most important agricultural regions. It’s a place young people can’t wait to leave. How and for whom will it be rebuilt? What will be the impact of radiation in the rice crop –two of Japan’s most potent cultural symbols combined in a new and horrific way?

Events like this are not the causes of anything in particular. They leave their mark on history because of the way they reflect cultural and economic attitudes at the time. The 1923 earthquake allowed Tokyo to be rebuilt as a modern city, and signaled an authoritarian shift in Japan’s politics. The 1995 earthquake in Kobe made it clear that Japan’s swaggering decades of economic triumphalism were over; the government could barely cope with the aftermath of that disaster. It’s too soon to tell, obviously, what this event portends.

My guess? More muddling through. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have your house or your loved ones just washed away –gone in a frightening instant. But the survivors will have to deal with the very same world that existed before the tsunami struck.

We’re all united in that struggle.

The Orange Key

August 6, 2010

Recent discussions at our family reunion about my alma mater, and a more recent foray into a stack of old magazines, prompted my decision to sit down and read this article, which I found charming. It was the tour, you know, that made me want to go.

You try walking backwards for an hour ...

Be warned, however. It turns out … [gasp] … that the bulldog story … isn’t … true!

Why can’t we be …

March 15, 2010

... like that wise old bird?


January 29, 2010

I just finished Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning novel Wolf Hall. Mom and Dad gave it to Troy, but in true Tudor fashion, I saw my chance, and intervened. I don’t normally read fiction, let alone 500-page works of fiction, but I wrote a long paper in college about Tudor government, and her main character is Thomas Cromwell, so I was sympathetic to the subject matter. She is a Very Good Writer. I will have more to say after Master Barber has read it.

Below are arrayed portraits of some of Mantel’s dramatis personae, borrowed from Wikipedia. The depiction of Thomas Cromwell, by Hans Holbein the Younger, features prominently in her book.

Thomas Cromwell

Does he have the face of a murderer? Read the book and find out … (more Tudor peoples below the fold) …


Some thoughts on the matter

October 29, 2008

As Troy goes off to do more phone-banking on behalf of the No on 8 campaign (he’s been working overtime on the cause for weeks now) … I thought I’d offer some thoughts, prompted by some reading I did today.

Andrew Sullivan links to a post on the Althouse blog that describes an LA Times debate on the merits of Proposition 8, which seeks to overturn the legally established right to marriage equality in California. The man carrying the Yes banner, Dean R. Broyles, described all sorts of institutions, from day camps to Catholic Charities to kindergartens, where people who objected to homosexuality in one form or another were punished, banned, or forced to cease and desist. He argued, in essence, that “gay rights” are a threat to freedom of speech and religious liberty.

As reported by Althouse, the No team simply mocked him for thinking that Prop 8 had anything to do with kindergartens, or education in general. But Althouse found that response inadequate.

Let me see if I can make Broyles’s point. I think he means to say that if same-sex marriage remains a legal right, enshrined in state constitutional law, then homosexual relationships will come to be regarded normal and good, and, consequently, anyone who objects to them will start to look like a bigot who should not be permitted to have his way. Thus, in order to preserve the right to discriminate against gay people and to keep schools from teaching children that gay couples are perfectly nice and so forth — all things Broyles wants — it’s important to outlaw gay marriage, because it will be a powerful force in changing perceptions about gay people and those who think gay people are doing something terribly wrong.

Andrew Sullivan picks up the story, saying, “Yes! That’s it.” The most wonderful thing about gay marriage, from his point of view, is that “It gives us a way to talk about gay couples for the first time in human history without talking about sex acts.” He goes on to talk about sex acts (he’s not against them), but concludes by pointing out that he’s never had to tell his nephew and niece that he’s gay. They know him and his partner, and have known them for a long time. They were at his wedding. They accept Andrew and Aaron for who they are, because they are defined by who they are –not by (ahem) an act, or a “lifestyle” which cannot be mentioned.

Reading the original and Sullivan’s follow-up post, everything suddenly made sense. I’ve long believed that gay rights are best defined in the context of religious liberty. The most common argument against legal equality, in any form, is and always has been: “God doesn’t want it that way.” Any laws that seek to instantiate (a form of) God’s law must, by definition, impinge on religious liberty. That’s why laws –even in a country as devoted to public devotion as the United States– require reasons in order to be enacted.

As a result, I (and a lot of people on our side) have never really understood our “threat.” We can’t fathom how our civil marriages, or civil unions, or civil rights –or, for that matter, our very existence– can be construed as “harmful” to anybody. Because, in literal terms, they can’t. It just isn’t reasonable to assume that Troy and I are a danger to those around us … unless I start discussing constitutions, in which case you might want to take evasive action.

But the reason it’s not socially acceptable to be a racist in 2008 (unless you cloak it in pseudo-science or cultural relativity) … the reason no church formally bars non-whites from its communion (if it wants to be included in polite society) … the reason no one can “opt-out” of school lessons about the African-American experience (unless you choose to home school your children) … must have something to do with the fact that there are no legal regimes left in the United States that allow discrimination on the basis of race (or color, or national origin). In fact, it might have everything to do with that fact.

If it is no longer possible to deny gays and lesbians the equal protection of the laws, then it is no longer acceptable to disapprove of them. That is the threat. Every church or religious organization that has committed resources to the Yes on 8 campaign, that has encouraged its members to give their own time and money, that has put its public reputation on the line (quite literally) in the name of this cause understands the danger. If gays and lesbians cease to be legally “other,” then their theological “otherness” will become harder and harder to justify.

I get it now. I read a touching article in the Chronicle today about the surprise of a well-meaning Yes supporter who found herself the target of anger and abuse from her neighbors. “[She] believes such responses must come from deep places of pain –and that gays and lesbians are entitled to the same rights as heterosexuals, just not the word marriage. Any animosity toward gays or lesbians is wrong, she said. ‘There must be such deep, deep, deep hurt; otherwise there couldn’t be so much opposition,’ she said. ‘They’ve lived with this. I guess we’re getting a taste of where they live.'”

She doesn’t hate us; she feels our pain. She’s willing to give us legal protection, but not divine sanction. Great! I’ll take it. No problem. How could we have any dispute with her or anyone like her? And yet, she insists on rewriting the California constitution in order to protect a divine plan of salvation.

I can’t help but wonder who needs more help –God, or young men like Matthew Shepard? We know, all too well, that it will never be possible to outlaw homophobia, just as it’s not possible to outlaw racism. It will never be entirely “safe” to be a queer kid, even in the most progressive and enlightened of homes, schools, and churches. It will never be “normal” for two men to walk down the street, holding hands. That much we know.

But we also know that hateful laws, like the Briggs Initiative of 1978 –that sought to ferret out homosexuals or their supporters from public schools, in order to fire them– can never again be tabled (at least in California). We know that the closet will continue to crumble. There will, one day, be an openly gay Major League Soccer player. There will, one day, be an openly gay President of the United States. In fact, she’ll probably be a Republican. Queerness will simply be different. Already, young people consider “gay” to be, well, slightly passé.

So if, next Wednesday, we awake to find that the voters of California have returned us to the status quo ante … if we awake to find ourselves “settling” for civil unions, in other words, we can take comfort in the fact that our defeats are no longer matters of life or death. That our presence in the world –that our fundamental humanity– is at least acknowledged. And that the future –our common future– is still bright. This storm will pass us all by.

But you have to understand our disappointment. You cannot deny someone the equal protection of the laws without disapproving of them. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is a false bargain. It allows the lover to feel harmless at the same time that real harm is done. We are not children. We do not need “tough love.” If we awake to find that Proposition 8 has passed, it will be as if the Yes voters, and all those who actively supported the initiative, patted us on the head and said, “We love you Troy and Dan, but …”

One day we’ll put a period in the place of that comma. Full stop.