The re-election of James Madison

WB Strickland's image of the USS United States capturing the HMS Macedonian
Did the October 25 capture of the HMS Macedonian by the USS United States help Madison win re-election in November 1812?

At times, it looked as if the election of 1812 would be a close one.  At any rate, its outcome was more important than remembered. Even as late as July 3 1813, the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser in Australian was speculating on who the winner was. Their information, which came from across the sea on the 12th January of that year, supposed that they could have been wrong about a DeWitt Clinton victory, but “The electors of Vermont are said to be in favor of Mr. Clinton.” Continue reading The re-election of James Madison

Topsy Turvy (1999) Review

Poster with the words "The Mikado on top, and a full length portrait of the character kaisha, in traditional dress and holding a sword, surrounded by flowers.
The Mikado, promotional poster from the Gilbert and Sullivan theatrical production, by Johnathan B. Jeffrey, ca. 1885

I purposely avoided Moliere, Shakespeare in Love, and almost every other movie about a playwright.  I do this because I respect writers like Shakespeare, and I find their period fascinating.  I likewise avoid most movies about Thomas Jefferson.  I prefer the Jefferson that I read in his letters, or from his contemporaries, to the cartoon lecher that Hollywood spoon feeds us with.

It ain’t just reverence and respect for the past, I don’t like the glossy misinterpretations.  Those movies about great people are often like sampling Mozart into some kind of techno elevator music. Continue reading Topsy Turvy (1999) Review

Are Students dumber than they were 90 years ago? I sure hope not.

We’ve all heard that today’s students don’t know history, and can’t find anything on a map.   Is it reassuring or not to know that their ancestors weren’t much brighter?

American students back in the time of Gandhi and Mussolini didn’t even know who those two famous people were.

Benito Mussolini giving an evil star and holding a handkerchif
Would you ask this guy for a foot massage?

“Gandhi is an Italian Ambassador in Washington” said students at Syracuse university, back when “British Rule in India” was “confronted with its gravest crisis.”

“Freudism is a revolutionary party in Bavaria,” they added.  Well, at least Bavaria is geographically closer to Freud’s birthplace than Italy is to India.   “Mussolini is an alcohol rub” which was apparently used in massage.  Or, Mussolini might have been the forerunner to Ganghnam style. Continue reading Are Students dumber than they were 90 years ago? I sure hope not.

Review: Le Rayon Vert

NAPOLEON DYNAMITE meets AMELIE POULAIN. Or, the grandmother of both films.

Le Rayon Vert is a classic. It’s not black and white, it’s not silent, and you probably never heard of the actors. The director’s name, Eric Rohmer, may easily be confused with a military general.

It’s title is apparently taken from a Jules Verne novel, but this is no sci-fi. No, Le Rayon Vert is the same down to earth, independent filmmaking that made Napoleon Dynamite seems so at home with audiences. And the main character is sort of the kind of hopeless romantic as Amelie. Only, she’s a bit more self-absorbed and socially maladroit, perhaps like young master Dynamite. (Or a female, French version of him.) Continue reading Review: Le Rayon Vert

Lesson from history: only a madman would write for a living

It started as a story on the Hokusai Manga, for the 1812 timeline, and it turned to the study of an inconvenient truth.

A horned demon holding a severed head and pointing to it with long nails, laughing
Want to be a writer? Hokusai’s demon is laughing at you!

Okay, some writers are billionaires. I’m ready for your list of best selling authors and other freaks. A lot of Hollywood’s top producers started as writers, or at least a few of the top CEOs have degrees in subjects like literature and English.

But history tells us that these successes are freak. And that’s where 1812 comes into all this.

You know Manga? No, not the fruit from India, the art from Japan. Yeah, out East somewhere. Well, apparently the “Mangas”, or Hokusai Manga, a series of historic cartoons, were started in 1812. They weren’t published until two years later, but hey.

The artist needed money, and so he taught. This involved travel, and seeing a lot of interesting things (which had more inspiration). He also published some books of his work. And this is where we get to writers. Continue reading Lesson from history: only a madman would write for a living

French terrorists vs Spanish insurgents

At the start of 1812, insurgents were big news in the French media.

“We learn from Valencia that the small fortress that Marshall Sechet has left in his rear, blockaded by various corps of the army, have successively surrendered, and the siege of Valencia has been seriously prosecuted by General Harispe, who commands under the orders of the Marshall. The Spanish General Blake is attempting to collect a force, in order to make a second attempt to relieve the place, but the uniform terror spread by the armies of France, is sufficient to impede his design; and the insurgents have, by the last account, been driven from the right bank of Guadilaviar. The Polish division has particularly distinguished itself in the late encounters with the enemy.”

USS terror at sea
The USS terror was a mine laying ship that operated with the American Navy during the second world war.

One thing I notice in looking at old documents is the use of the word “terror” in war, as if it were a good thing. The French weren’t alone is using “terror” as an instrument. Even in the US Navy, ships carried the name “USS Terror” as late as World War II. (The Terror was a minelayer, a ship whose primary purpose was to lay sea mines in the water.)

Of course, the word terror does not necessarily mean what we today call a terrorist. But has the definition of the word insurgent changed as well? Continue reading French terrorists vs Spanish insurgents

Taft’s fight is your Fight!

(A Republican fight against free trade and an out of control financial industry)William Howard Taft from newspaper clipping

Because
Do you remember 1893-4 — the free soup houses, bank failures, thousands of men out of work and the bread line?
Do you remember at this time we had a democratic President, Grover Cleveland?
Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic candidate and his free trade doctrine will bring this condition on again and it is your duty to see that he is not elected. Continue reading Taft’s fight is your Fight!

Mysteries of Lisbon: A historical film.

Like many of today’s historical films, Mysteries of Lisbon is long (very long). Before investing four and a half hours in a movie, it might be an idea to read a review or two.  After I invested my four and a half hours, ideas for reviews kept invading my head. But there are so many things to talk about, the director’s style, the actors, the camera work that one observer called “unobtrusive”, the level of history, it was hard to settle on something.

Sure, I could write a PhD thesis, researching the director’s life and speculating how that influenced the production, but I’m not interested in that. Instead, I’ll answer the two questions I think every reviewer should answer. Did I like the movie? And, how do my readers know if they’ll like it? Continue reading Mysteries of Lisbon: A historical film.

Remembering Antietam, with civil War expert John Michael Priest

John Michael Priest is a well respected author of the American civil war, especially the battle of Antietam.

Notice we didn’t say War Between the States or Sharpsburg.  Some of you might accuse us of bias. Well, that’s nothing new. Continue reading Remembering Antietam, with civil War expert John Michael Priest

Why is western Europe at peace?

Map of Europe with EU flag superimposedAs the EU wins the Nobel Peace Prize, we are reminded of a time when Europe was the site of many deadly wars.

Many institutions, from NATO to the UN, have claimed responsibility for the relative peace in Europe since the end of the Second World War. Can any of these claims be substantiated, or are they all special interests trying to make excuses for their hefty expense accounts? Continue reading Why is western Europe at peace?