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August 17, 2012

On America's shaky history with the Confederate flag

It's very creepy to me now as an adult that the Dukes of Hazzard's General Lee sported a confederate flag. And that it was named the General Lee. America's Simple-Minded Obsession With the Confederate Flag - Kevin M. Levin - The Atlantic
Not all Confederate soldiers fought under the blue St. Andrew's cross (more accurately, the saltire). And apart from its use during veterans events, the flag's visibility was minimal during the decades following the war. At the beginning of the 20th century, the United Daughters of the Confederacy sought to protect the flag's connection to the men in the ranks by maintaining a strict code governing its usage in public. Misuse and alignment with questionable causes, they believed, would not only soil the meaning of the flag, but the memory of the Confederacy and the righteousness of its cause as well. By the 1940s, however, the flag could be seen at University of Mississippi football games and other popular events, ushering in what historian John Coski has called a "flag fad." That fad eventually extended to the far reaches of the nation, and the flag can now be seen on every kind of trinket and tchotchke imaginable. However, the flag's most lasting legacy -- and the source of much of the controversy today -- can be traced to its use as a symbol of "Massive Resistance" by the Dixiecrats beginning in 1948 and continuing through the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. During that period, the flag became the standard for those committed to defending classrooms, bus depots, and other public spaces (now battlefields themselves) from black encroachment. In fact, the flag's use throughout the 20th century covered a time span significantly longer than its presence on Civil War battlefields. Its placement atop southern statehouses like South Carolina ultimately reinforced the flag's connection to segregation and racism. Confederate flags no longer enjoy those privileged perches.

August 12, 2012

A final tally of the Olympic medals

Joe. My. God.: Olympic Medals Tally

August 10, 2012

Today the Internet Made Me Really Sad, and then It Made Me Really Happy

“Call Me Maybe,” the Chatroulette version: A hairy man in...

David Rakoff is Now of Blessed Memory

David Rakoff was killed by cancer yesterday[1]. I've especially enjoyed...

Continue reading "David Rakoff is Now of Blessed Memory" »

August 09, 2012

Why the guillotine was the first “egalitarian” execution tool

Why the guillotine was the first "egalitarian" execution tool
Most of us know the basics of the guillotine - it's a French contraption suitable for killing royalty and any pesky roving Highlanders. But while we associate the old chopper with taking care of princes of the universe, its real purpose was egalitarianism. Or, at least, that was its stated purpose. Doctor Joseph Ignace Guillotin was sickened by the spectacle of public execution and wanted to abolish it completely. In the late 1700s, this was unthinkable. After some strategizing, Guillotin got an angle on it. There was a reason why the rich paid a purse to executioners. They wanted to ensure that their deaths were quick and painless. The poor didn't have that luxury. They often didn't even have the luxury or the power to bribe their way into deaths that might be made painless. Slow hanging, draw-and-quartering, and burning weren't unusual. The rich, on the other hand, got themselves such sweet deals that some nobility demanded that they be hanged with a silk rope, as a sign of status. In the 1790s, after the resentment of the privileges of the rich and titled had boiled over, Guillotin and his supporters made the point that "The Machine" meant a humane, painless death for rich and poor. They figured that taking away the spectacle was the first step towards abolishing the death penalty altogether. They were, to put it mildly, wrong. A civilian assembly granted the quick, painless death to everyone, but the sheer scale of the executions made them a spectator sport. The man who wanted to abolish the death penalty saw his name forever associated with a machine designed for execution.