Category Archives: History

The Indianapolis Anniversary

Yesterday, July 30th, was the anniversary of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, the ship that delivered the first atomic bomb to Tinian Island at the end of WWII. Whenever I think of this I am reminded of Robert Shaw as the fisherman, Quint in Jaws. In a retrospective on the movie it was revealed that his chilling monologue about being aboard the Indianapolis was done in a pair of takes after the actor had first read up on the incident, then, quite typically, got thoroughly drunk and just rattled it out.

Presidential Inauguration 2013

In a great tradition spanning centuries, the President of the United States is being sworn in today. You can watch it live here, at least as I post this.

When I watch these things, regardless of whether I voted for or even like the person who was elected, I am a little misty-eyed. I wish that someone would at some point in my life ask Lynn Ahrens to come and sing this live:

I would like to ask DW commenters to do me a favor and refrain, for today at least, on this blog, from attacking those taking part in this ceremony. Thanks in advance! The peaceful transition of power that these things represent was a thing virtually unknown in most of human history prior to the 18th century, and we should be humbled to remember that, regardless of the way our blood may sometimes boil with the ephemeral issues of our era.

Tesla in time

Death-Place of Nikolai Tesla

Almost every day on the way to work, I pass by the Manhattan Center, some sort of entertainment venue place that is located diagonally across the street from the determinedly un-entertaining (though not un-notable) building in which I work, One Penn Plaza.  And I almost always take note, on one level or another, of this rather odd plaque:

Chances are that someone really important died in lots and lots of places in New York, so it’s always struck me, as I say, as kind of unusual that this building commemorates this particular Yugoslav-American Scientist-Inventor.

Unusual, odd, and, of course, eccentric are as they do, of course, so when I heard that some friends of friends were promoting a new animated television series paying tribute to the life and work of the eccentric inventor, Nikola Tesla, I had to take additional note!

I asked one of the guys, Will Martinez, for the basic idea.  He explained:

We are interested in Tesla, because of the characteristics and sentiments that have started to surround his legacy. He is an underdog. An inventor who, arguably, is not as appreciated in history as he might be. Also, he is a character that we could viably see traveling through time. When we realized that he had been friends with Mark Twain in reality, it inspired us to create characters based on the two that were balanced perfectly between the quiet genius of Tesla, and the rough spirit of Twain.

Then I remembered there was this big rivalry between Tesla (A/C) and Edison (D/C).  (Note that this last link, to a piece in the Oatmeal blog — how long was I supposed to know about how big that blog is?  Are blogs still even big at all? – is neatly addressed, if not arguably debunked, by this piece in Forbes.  And then there’s this rather more damning follow up here concerning Tesla and eugenics.  Neat Tesla vs. Edison infographic and everything here, too.

Will the cartoon version of the man address all these fascinating issues?  Only if it gets funded.  Hence the pitch:

I’ve done my part to help!  And thanks to Will and Zach Tolchinsky for making my frequent interaction with the Tesla Deathplace plaque at least a little — not alternating-current-like, but somewhat — more stimulating.

American Civil Religion

I have believed for some time that there is a religion, roughly Christian in shape, that many Americans are members of. I’ve sometimes called it American Nondenominationalism (which used to be in the Dean’s World archives but I can no longer find). Anyway, imagine my surprise when something that looked very much like what I was describing was pointed out on Facebook by my friend Jerry Kindall as American Civil Religion. My only argument with it is that some Fundamentalist Christians tack their own particular type of Bible-only Fundamentalist Christianity onto it. Then you’ve got something pretty much exactly as I’ve described so many times.

Of course I suppose people who ascribe to this worldview snort at the rest of us as “liberal moral relativists” or somesuch, but… [shrug] I see so many of our national myths upheld as unquestionable truths rather than, well, myths much less interesting (if sometimes prettier) than our actual history, I now know what to call it when I see it.

Call A Convention

Yes, I really do believe we should call a Constitutional Convention and rewrite the thing, because it’s broken at the core. Not this or that amendment, I mean the core document itself, articles 1-7. It has lasted far longer than the Framers ever imagined. It was imperfect from the beginning–which is not a radical statment, by the way, since all the framers thought so too, as did practically everybody who voted to ratify it anyway.

I am not the only one who thinks it’s served its function and it’s time for a complete reboot. Lawrence Lessig of the Electronic Freedom Foundation has a good lecture on why he thinks it’s a good idea, and you conservatives who are quailing might want to listen carefully to what he says, because he’s talking to you as much as anybody.

I wish I could find a transcript of that, but there are a number of people who think the same thing, and they aren’t all flaming lefty or flaming righty nuts.

I no longer believe in the Constitution. I’ll say it again: I no longer believe in our Constitution. Parts of it? Sure. I’m particularly fond of the Bill of Rights. That’s not what I don’t believe in. I don’t believe in the seven articles. I don’t believe in the Presidency, I don’t believe in the Congress as currently structured, and I don’t believe in the judiciary as it’s currently structured.

There are a thousand people hacking at the branches of evil, and only a few hacking at its roots. I want to hack at the roots.