Tag Archives: u.s. history

The Republic of Minerva

Here’s something I didn’t know: in 1971, a group of American libertarians created two small artificial islands on an unclaimed coral reef near Fiji and Tonga, (very roughly) a thousand miles or so off Australia’s east coast, and proceeded to declare a new country, which was then invaded and conquered by the kingdom of Tonga, and then washed away by storms.

The best Oliver could do was Minerva Reef, in the middle of the Pacific, 500 km (260 miles) southeast of Tonga.  It had never been claimed, despite being discovered as far back as 1854.  There were, however, serious problems establishing a settlement on the reef, not the least being that the reef lies some three feet above water at low tide and about four feet under water at high tide.

Undaunted, in January 1971, Oliver and a small party went to Fiji, where they chartered a 54-foot motor sailer and purchased the materials to create artificial islands on the reef.  On their arrival at Minerva, the party unloaded large hunks of coral wrapped in chicken wire, concrete blocks, sand and other rubble, which allowed them to build two micro-islands on the reef.  On one of these islands, they built a small stone tower and hoisted its flag: a yellow torch of freedom on a solid blue background.  The founding fathers of Minerva hoped to expand the reclaimed land until it would eventually support a city of 30,000 citizens…

Taking up the challenge was King Tāufa’āhau Tupou IV, the heaviest monarch in the world, weighing in at over 440 pounds. On June 21, 1972, he led an expeditionary force to invade the Principality of Minerva.  Without an army or navy to call on, the king recruited a five-man convict work detail to undertake the invasion and, to add gravis to the expedition, a four-piece brass band played the Tongan national anthem from on-board the royal yacht Olovaba to inspire the troops.  Taking courage, when he saw that Minerva was unoccupied, the king decided to personally lead his force.  Once the tide was out, the king went ashore.  After tearing down Minervan flag, he read aloud a proclamation of sovereignty.  The reef now belonged to Kingdom of Tonga.

I like to think I have a creative mind but I certainly couldn’t have made that up.

speculative fiction on a future U.S. civil war; also, who is Adam Rothstein?

The Intercept has reviews of a few new books in which the United States breaks up.

“Tropic of Kansas” takes place in a United States, in which “whole counties depopulated by disappearing futures” have tried, with limited success, to institute “autonomy and local control of land and law.” A federal recolonization, equally unsuccessful, has left pockets of quasi-autonomous territories contested by various for-profit revolutionaries; feral, unofficially deputized militias; and the occasional U.S. government incursion. The result is the titular space — it’s not “a specific place you could draw on a map, and Kansas wasn’t really even a part of it” — where violence is endemic. Militias confiscate guns. An insurgent is hung from a bridge, “naked and carved with a warning that looked like a corporate logo.” It is into this zone that Sig, a young man orphaned by the militarized police state, is deported by self-amused Mounties…

“AMERICAN WAR,” SIMILARLY composed before Trump’s America was imminent, sees the Second American Civil War kick off in 2074 over the South’s refusal to adhere to the Sustainable Future Act, which outlaws the use of fossil fuels. Following the molding of Southern resistance fighter Sarat Chestnut, “American War” reads less Cassandra than “Tropic.” Instead, El Akkad recreates in the U.S. the societal fracturing it has inaugurated in the Middle East. Children are radicalized by the loss of home, refugee internment, and massacre…

The Neo-Reactionary movement — think the theory bro version of the “alt-right” — sees an endgame in “Patchwork,” which was dreamed up by Mencius Moldbug, the pen name Curtis Yarvin, who reportedly watched election results at the home of sometime Donald Trump adviser Peter Thiel. “Patchwork” consists of a neo-feudal “global spiderweb of tens, even hundreds, of thousands of sovereign and independent mini-countries, each governed by its own joint-stock corporation without regard to the residents’ opinions.”

It also mentions two older books – Ecotopia, which I have read, and The Turner Diaries, which I do not plan to read. Finally, it mentions Adam Rothstein’s “Cascadian Drone Ballads”, about which I am confused whether they are stories, songs, both, or neither, and where and how one would get them. Adam Rothstein appears to be an interesting character, some kind of cross between an author and artist who just does his own thing. Perhaps most surprisingly of all, there does not appear to be a Wikipedia page about him.

It’s hard for me to imagine an actual war between the states. I can imagine a scenario where a federal government starved of tax revenue and regulatory power gradually lets states drift off in their own directions until it is unclear whether they have a coherent foreign policy, and perhaps start checking papers at the border. Ironically, rather than the EU gradually turning into something like the United States as Churchill envisioned, this would mean the U.S. gradually turning into something like the EU (while the EU might be drifting back into something more like its 19th century predecessor.)

By the way, what’s a “theory bro”? Are those the dudes who sit around in bars talking about theories instead of sports and women?

10 things I didn’t know about Robert E. Lee

I really should know something about Robert E. Lee. I had not only a total of three years of U.S. history in grade school (along with 0 years of world history), but a full year of Virginia history in fourth grade. I grew up in Southwestern Virginia until I was 10, then moved to Pennsylvania for my formative high school and college years. So part of my perception of differences between the two states probably has to do with where I was in my personal development, but one difference that always struck me was that in Virginia the state was something important, something to be proud of and know the history of, whereas in Pennsylvania the state was just sort of an amorphous political entity that exists to serve you, and doesn’t do a particularly good job of it. So my childhood was the 1980s, not the 1850s, but I could see some rough echos still of what might make a person like Lee feel loyalty to a state and be willing to fight for it. I’ve been to Washington and Lee University where he is buried (along with his horse), Gettysburg, and Arlington National Cemetery. So, without further ado, here are 10 things in the Wikipedia article on Robert E. Lee that I either forgot since fourth grade, or never knew.

  1. He was trained as an engineer at West Point, and served in the Army Corps of Engineers early in his career.
  2. His wife was a step-great-granddaughter of George Washington.
  3. He served with Ulysses S. Grant in the Mexican-American war.
  4. His in-laws were wealthy slaveowners who owned a large tobacco plantation.
  5. When his father-in-law died, his will stated that his slaves were “to be emancipated by my executors in such manner as to my executors may seem most expedient and proper, the said emancipation to be accomplished in not exceeding five years from the time of my decease.” Apparently the slaves knew they were to be emancipated in the will, but didn’t know about the five years. Lee took the full five years to do it, during which time some ran away and he had them captured and whipped, although there is some controversy over the details.
  6. He fought on the Union side at Harper’s Ferry, before Virginia seceded (I must have learned this in fourth grade, but haven’t thought about it since at least high school).
  7. He was a Union commander at a fort in Texas when Texas seceded.
  8. In 1865 he favored a plan to “arm and train slaves in Confederate uniform for combat. Lee explained, ‘We should employ them without delay … [along with] gradual and general emancipation.’ The first units were in training as the war ended.”
  9. His U.S. citizenship and voting rights were stripped after the war, although he received a pardon and was not prosecuted or imprisoned. They were restored posthumously by the U.S. Senate and Gerald Ford in 1975.
  10. Arlington National Cemetery was his family home.

So there you have it. He certainly wasn’t perfect, but I personally don’t think it is very productive pulling down statues to people who fought and suffered in what they believed was a necessary struggle to defend their homeland 150 years ago, and who mostly didn’t have a choice in the matter (although Lee did). I would rather see interpretive signage, museum displays, tours and school curricula that put the uglier parts of our history in context rather than sweep it under the rug. But what happens is that a few assholes choose to appropriate a particular symbol for their asshole cause, and then nobody else is allowed to interpret that symbol as meaning anything else, so we tear it down, sweep it under the rug, and maybe repeat our mistakes later. So I say leave Robert E. Lee rest in peace and let’s focus on real solutions to real problems affecting the descendents of all the people involved in the civil war – like poverty, inequality, education, physical and mental health, the environment and climate change.

Niall Ferguson compares Trump to JFK

Niall Ferguson appears to have finally stopped explaining and apologizing and rationalizing Donald Trump, and admitted that he is a bad President. Just not the only bad President ever, so that makes it okay. Who is Niall’s example of another bad President? John F. Kennedy. He withheld information on his health from the public, had suspected ties to organized crime, and was unfaithful to his wife. These are historical facts I can’t argue with, but surely not very important points of comparison between the two men. Niall picks a couple more points of comparison that I think are important, but for completely different reasons than Niall.

And on his watch, the world came closer than at any other time to nuclear Armageddon, during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. How was catastrophe averted? By using a back channel to the Kremlin to cut a secret deal…

Perhaps Trump’s Cuban missile crisis is on its way, in North Korea.

On the secret back channel, Trump has been criticized for not maintaining this back channel. The idea of the back channel is that if the radar says there are incoming missiles, the President has a direct line to the other side that will help him make a crucial decision whether to launch a response. That happened several times during the Cold War. Do we trust Trump to make the right decision under similar circumstances? Or at least a reasoned, rational decision even if there is no right one. I don’t.

On the Cuban Missile Crisis, one reason it happened is that foreign enemies perceived the U.S. leadership as weak and decided to test it. When we were tested, the U.S. military leadership pressed for an attack on Cuba, which very likely could have led to a world war with or without thermonuclear weapons. Kennedy resisted this advice and managed to defuse the crisis without launching an invasion. I admit, he bluffed his way through it, and maybe got lucky, but it was strong leadership and it took as much courage to stand up to the U.S. military as to the USSR. Possibly more. And maybe they killed him for it.

Trump is not only weak, he is an international laughing stock. Foreign powers who wouldn’t have crossed a Clinton or Bush or Obama are constantly testing him. Not only is he likely to do whatever military advisers tell him to do, he does not really even have independent civilian advisers to counter them. He is insecure, ignorant, and irrational. The risk to civilization is huge.

Wow, I just depressed myself. Well, nuclear weapons are the worst thing currently out there in the world, and the threat is real and growing. Start a global thermonuclear war, and we will not be around to worry about health care or climate change or anything else. The cockroaches can figure that stuff out when they evolve intelligence in another trillion years or so.

National Popular Vote Interstate Compact

What’s interesting about the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is that it is not a constitutional amendment. As I understand it, because the Constitution gives the states a fair amount of leeway to decide how they want to cast their electoral votes, the “winner take all” electoral college system as it has existed in recent years could be circumvented without legislative or judicial action at the federal level, and each vote would be equal. One person one vote, what a concept for the world’s self-proclaimed greatest democracy!

The organization’s website tallies which states have agreed to this so far:

The National Popular Vote bill has now passed a total of 35 state legislative chambers in 23 states.  The National Popular Vote bill will take effect when enacted into law by states possessing 270 electoral votes (a majority of the 538 electoral votes).  It has been enacted into law in 11 states possessing 165 electoral votes (CA, DC, HI, IL, MA, MD, NJ, NY, RI, VT, WA).  The bill will take effect when enacted by states possessing an additional 105 electoral votes.

So we’re more than halfway there, which sounds pretty good. However, the states represented above are ones that have very good reason to feel that their citizen’s votes have been marginalized. Big “swing” states like my home state of Pennsylvania end up having much more power in picking the President than is really warranted by our populations. Even though a majority of citizens supports implementing the popular vote (which is just logical and obvious), our cynical state politicians are not likely to support it. States like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin may eventually lose some electoral votes over time if our populations keep shrinking. Populous and growing states with a lot of electoral votes like Florida and Texas are where this fight would have to be won.

I think the world would be a better place if Al Gore and Hillary Clinton had both been elected, per the clearly stated preference of the citizens of our country. But this really shouldn’t be a partisan issue because sooner or later it will sting both parties. I recognize that sooner or later, an election will come in which a candidate I support might lose the popular vote and win the electoral vote. I still support abolishing the electoral college system anyway, because it is just the obviously right thing to do.

The Plot to Kill King

William Pepper, a lawyer who has investigated the King and RFK assassinations in detail, has a new(ish) book called The Plot to Kill King: The Truth Behind the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Pepper represented the King family in a civil suit. From Wikipedia:

Following Ray’s death, Pepper represented the King family in a wrongful deathlawsuit, “King family vs. Loyd Jowers and other unknown co-conspirators”. During a trial that lasted four weeks, Pepper produced over seventy witnesses. Jowers, testifying by deposition, stated that James Earl Ray was a scapegoat and not involved in the assassination. Jowers testified that Memphis police officer Earl Clark fired the fatal shots. On December 8, 1999, the Memphis jury found Jowers responsible, and also found that the assassination plot included “governmental agencies.” The jury took less than an hour to find in favor of the King family for the requested sum of $100.

Perhaps the most disturbing claim in Pepper’s book is this (from an interview he gave to globalresearch.ca):

The hospital story was told to Pepper by a man named Johnton Shelby, whose mother, Lula Mae Shelby, had been a surgical aide at St. Joseph’s that night. Shelby told Pepper the story of how his mother came home the morning after the shooting (she hadn’t been allowed to go home the night before) and gathered the family together. He remembers her saying to them, “I can’t believe they took his life.”

She described chief of surgery Dr. Breen Bland entering the emergency room with two men in suits. Seeing doctors working on King, Bland commanded, “Stop working on the nigger and let him die! Now, all of you get out of here, right now. Everybody get out.”

Johnton Shelby says his mother described hearing the sound of the three men sucking up saliva into their mouths and then spitting. Lula Mae described to her family that she looked over her shoulder as she was leaving the room and saw that the breathing tube had been removed from King and that Bland was holding a pillow over his head. (The book contains the entire deposition given by Johnton Shelby to Pepper, so readers can judge for themselves whether they think Shelby is credible – as Pepper believes he is.)