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September 06, 2011

"When we talk about the Confederacy . . . we are talking about a rebellion incited for the purpose of buying and selling children."

Coates recent discussion of slavery comes to a sharp point. We *do* need to make the Civil War ess abstract and less about freedom or liberty or pride or whatever apologists claim it was about and lay it bare: these people murdered their brothers, their cousins, their neighbors so they could maintain the right to buy and sell children. Feeling It - Ta-Nehisi Coates - Personal - The Atlantic
. . . Think of it like this: If you were born, during those years on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, like my maternal American ancestors, there was a thirty percent chance that you would be parted from your parents before you hit puberty. If you were an adult there, and you fell in love, and had a child, there was a one in three chance you would live to see that child sold. Given the fertility rates at the time, it's highly likely that one of your children would be sold. To my eyes, that is little more than systemic, state-sanctioned child abuse. On some level, I'm hoping to stimulate an intellectual conversation about American History. But on another level, I am hoping to make this portion of our history more concrete, and less abstract. I believe the discussion should be respectful. I do not believe it should be antiseptic or dispassionate. When we talk about the Confederacy, we should always be clear that we are talking about a rebellion incited for the purpose of purchasing and selling children. When we talk about Pickett's Charge, Robert E. Lee, or whatever, we should always remember that it was valor in the service of trafficking. Perhaps that sounds too harsh. I don't know. I don't really want to be emotionally distant from this.

September 02, 2011

How did we end up with Prohibition, anyways?

It was basically the Tea Party of its day: a catch-all group for the disenchanted, the bigots, the xenophobes, and the Klan. And also people who really believed alcohol was bad for society. Purists Gone Wild: Prohibition, Revisited? - NYTimes.com
. . . Okrent asks the obvious question a modern reader brings when trying to understand this social engineering nightmare: “How did a freedom-loving people decide to give up a private right that had been freely exercised by millions upon millions since the first European colonists arrived in the New World?” Prohibition got chiseled into the nation’s governing document after the temperance cause became a grand vehicle for the loosely organized loathing that was widespread at the time, from the Ku Klux Klan to viciously anti-immigrant groups. Those who hated, or distrusted, Roman Catholics, new arrivals from Italy, Greece and other nations long tied to the grape, blacks, the teeming urban mass of the working poor — they made common cause with high-minded liberals and evangelical Protestants. The bigots thought if they could deprive the disenfranchised of drink they would take away their gathering houses and political wards — the neighborhood saloons. The purists thought people would raise their eyes to God, or spend more time at home, when all a working man could look forward to at the end of the day was root beer. “A mighty alliance of moralists and progressives, suffragettes and xenophobes had legally seized the Constitution, bending it to a new purpose,” writes Okrent, who was the first public editor of The Times. The battering ram of the prohibitionists was the Anti-Saloon League, which Okrent calls “the mightiest pressure group in the nation’s history.” (A public editor might note that Okrent overuses the word “mighty,” a minor complaint.) . . .