Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Undersea Meander

Not exactly American history but this year marks the centenary of Jacques Cousteau's birth, and it is being celebrated around the world.  No person did more to bring us closer to the sea, from his seminal undersea film The Silent World to his amazing Odyssey that became a major part of American television in the 70s.  Wes Anderson paid a fun homage to Cousteau and all things aquatic in The Life Aquatic.


  1. BBC did a nice special on Cousteau the other night, noting that he switched from aviation to sea life, following an accident that resulted in his honorable discharge from the French Air Force. One of life's fortuitous turns of events.

  2. We needed a new meander.... Beautiful.

  3. Pynchon used the Transit of Venus in his book Mason & Dixon,


    to introduce readers to the intrepid surveyors.

  4. A celebration of states' rights and secession -- this should give everyone pause:


  5. It gets so tiresome. The South has been "celebrating" the Civil War ever since "Redemption," during which they beat back Reconstruction. There are so many schmucks who still believe this was a war over states' rights and not slavery. There is nothing you can say to change their minds. It is truly hopeless.

  6. Ouch! (I think Robert would probably argue that the war was fought over states' rights.)

  7. Actually, I would argue that to some extent -- not states rights so much as anti-secession. This is where the nuances of history are so interesting, and historians have to be careful they don't ignore the facts to fit the accepted narrative.

    And this is where new books on Lincoln can shed some light (I hope Foner does). As much of an icon and hero he is in our history, it's my understanding that Lincoln did not threaten to fight a war over slavery. As I understand it from what I've read, he threatened war over secession.

    That the states seceded because they feared that he would end their "rights" to have slavery is different, I would argue, than the fact that he didn't invade and occupy the south to end slavery. He did it because a nation divided cannot stand. That's a pretty powerful argument, but not an anti-slavery one.

    Let the argument begin.....

  8. The South used the same theory of its "rights" to maintain Jim Crow laws and oppose the Civil Rights movement. The argument just doesn't hold up, in my opinion.

  9. ". . . it's my understanding that Lincoln did not threaten to fight a war over slavery. As I understand it from what I've read, he threatened war over secession."

    But if Lincoln was willing to fight a war over seccession, and since the southern states would not have seceded but for the issue of slavery, it seems to me that Lincoln was also willing to fight a war over slavery.

  10. From the article:

    “The North did not go to war to end slavery, it went to war to hold the country together and only gradually did it become anti-slavery — but slavery is why the South seceded.”

    Robert may disagree with me on this, and he knows a lot more Civil War history than I do, but as I recall Lincoln was willing to compromise on all sorts of questions related to slavery if he could keep the country together. In many ways, his actions remind me of Obama.

    Preserving slavery may have been what the South thought the war was about, but I don't think it was how the North as a whole originally saw it -- although there were certainly great leaders who were anti-slavery.

    And as you note the nation basically abandoned freed slaves at the end of reconstruction -- thus all the Jim Crow laws, lynching, and outright terrorism of an entire population.

    So in that way, I suppose you could say that the South lost the battle but won the war over "states rights" until the federal government came back again.

    What I find scary in this story is that these people are openly celebrating secession, and reenacting the swearing in of Jefferson Davis, against a political backdrop that has become very racialized because of the President. I find it terrifying.

  11. Lincoln may not have wanted the war to be fought over slavery, but it was. He tried everything to keep the border states in the Union, even later deferring the Emancipation Proclamation to those slave states that stayed in the Union until after the war. I guess you could have called it the 500 lb. elephant in the room.

  12. After thinking about it last night, I came to the conclusion that, paraphrasing Robert, "where you sit is where you stand."

    Certainly from the South's perspective, the war was about "preserving our way of life" -- i.e., the right to keep enslaved labor. From the North's perspective, particularly as represented by Lincoln and his leadership -- and with whom I sit in the West -- the issue was not so clear-cut. The war was certainly not being fought by a band of abolitionists hell bent on freeing the slaves.

    In any event, it was interesting to see the point I'm always arguing being made by the "liberal" historian in that article. I think that's the first time I've ever seen it put so clearly.

  13. For as long as the American Civil War has been a topic of debate, there have been those who seek to accomplish intellectually what the Confederacy was not able to accomplish militarily. And oddly enough, they have been quite successful.

  14. This is the sad part, rick. The attempt by so many historians over the years to parse out the Civil War, push the issue of slavery into the background and essentially make it a "war over states' rights," or simply a history of the military campaigns, is appalling in my view. It gives intellectual credence to this long held Southern fantasy. David Blight discusses this very well in Race and Reunion.

  15. I haven't read Blight's book. Must look for it.

  16. I just saw Inside Job about the collapse on Wall Street, and am simply stunned. It's not that he exposes anything particularly new, but he does an amazing job in telling the story, and showing how politics starting with Reagan all the way through Obama perpetuated what went on there.

    This is, alas, another one of those films that will probably just disappear without much of a splash (although I see that it is up for a best documentary award). Everyone should see it.

  17. Well, this latest move by Obama defies all credulity. What does he really hope to gain by giving into the Republicans on the tax cuts? There is no "compromise" here. The loss in revenue will only add to the deficit, and he will have a hard time explaining to federal employees why they should accept pay freezes at the expense of tax cuts to the wealthy.

    I suppose he felt it was more important to get unemployment benefits extended for another year, and one assumes he will now have the "votes" to repeal DADT, since Susan Collins among others said they would be willing to do so in exchange for tax cuts. But, this is nothing more than politics as usual.

    Very disappointing!

  18. I get a kick out of how many hits Steamboat Willie continues to get in this forum. I assume these are others looking in on our forum.

  19. Re: this day in history on John Lennon's death. They weren't returning to a hotel when he got shot. They were at the entrance to their home, The Dakota, where they owned a floor.

    I am as disappointed as ever in the give-away that Obama and the Republicans agreed upon. This is even bigger than the other compromises. Then he gave a press conference on Tuesday and gave a very unsatisfactory explanation. He said that in two years he will fight not to extend the tax cut further. Who could believe that? He may be a lame duck at this time two years from now.

    I don't know just how the unemployment extension works. I am no longer on the extension myself, because the state ordered me to refile on the basis of temp work done so far this year. Well, at the time I filed that early in October, I'd only earned about $9K from temp work, since I don't get work every day and the hourly rate is 55% of the hourly rate I earned at my last full-time job. So now when I don't get work, I get $179 a week before taxes. So from that point, I would have this for six months at most or until I find full-time work.

    I did hear that the people who were out of work for the maximum amount of time (depending on the state -- 93 weeks here in NY) would not get ANYTHING from this compromise. That is why I don't understand how this works. Those people will not longer be counted as unemployed. The media calls them the people who stopped looking or gave up, but most of them ARE looking.

    Obama used to be a Senator. Didn't he learn then how nasty and negative Republicans are? Supposedly he thought they would cooperate once he became president, because the economy was a disaster and so many people were out of work. He could not have been more wrong. And now with this cave-in, does he really think that the new Republican Congress will support him on anything?

  20. Re Jackie Kennedy, there are two books about her life in books coming out at about the same time, Reading Jackie and Jackie as Editor:


  21. Interesting article on the new Liberty Bell site. This is a story that I have been transfixed by since visiting Philadelphia for the first time in 2005, or whenever that was. The Nash book on the Liberty Bell, by the way, is very good, although I'm not sure there's anything necessarily "new" in it. I still enjoyed it -- talking about how the bell became an icon.