Category Archives: Posts

Duck Amuck

downloadAfter sharing a couple bleak and dark things over the last couple posts, I thought I’d share something genuinely funny and lighthearted. Like many of you, I learned my classical music, movie tropes, and Opera from none other than Looney Tunes. However, in 1951, Chuck Jones took a step further.

In a moment of pure, absurdity and high-minded art Chuck Jones decided to take Daffy Duck into the realm of absurdism and Surrealism. With developing artists like Dali helping Alfred Hitchcock designed scenes, it seems that Looney Tunes may be the perfect venue to lampoon such things. As a kid I love this cartoon, but as an adult I am amazed by it. While still funny, it’s amazing how meta the humor is and how well it portrays the art form.

In 1994, it was voted the second-best cartoon of all time by the Animation Guild of America and was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in the National Film Registry.

Looney Toons – Duck Amuck

Watch the video “Looney Toons – Duck Amuck” uploaded by JomJul on Dailymotion.

Separation of Powers

One of the most important aspects of our Constitution is something that we all learned we were in elementary school, the separation of powers. Recently, in constitutional/presidential debates, several things have come up that make me think of this political structure.

Though there were many forms of mixed government going all the way back to Aristotle and even Polybius argued that Roman Republic was a mixed form of government, what we think of as multiple parts of government really is developed by first John Calvin, who develops the notion of a bipartite government between democracy and the aristocracy in the 16th century and is ultimately mirrored in the British tradition. However, if you had a good political science teacher in high school, you probably know that the true separation of powers is listed in our Constitution comes from the French nobleman Montesquieu.

In his book the Spirit of Laws, Montesquieu divides up all political power into three parts; executive, legislative, and judicial. In our country we make them slightly more complicated, mirroring other facets of the world at the time. While we do have the executive (the president and cabinet), the Congress mirrors English Parliament by being bicameral with a House of Representatives and the Senate, and the federal court systems with the Supreme Court at the top. We even make it more complicated with our tiered federal system which we call federalism; which gives power to the states and local governments individually. Though much more complicated than I have time to get into here, though if you are Presbyterian you may recognize the structures within structures (this is not coincidental), this mirrors the complexities of social and religious governments in Europe. While within a nation there were monarchs, there was also the religious monarch of the papacy that ruled over most of Europe, and include Protestant nations the monarch was also often the religious head.

However, all this is a step up/challenged by the old separation of powers. Looking at the oft repeated example of the French Revolution, the monarchy was against the old separation of powers, monarch, people, Army. In most traditional governments, was impossible to separate the monarchs from any other branch. They had the powers of executor, legislator, and judge. The only real check was the idea that the military could overthrow them, often placing a new king on the throne. By the French revolution, the third group made itself known. Destroying the bonds of feudalism, the people rose up and overthrew the government, splitting the military and mostly standing on their own.

In many Third World nations, the military is the branch that is the decider. When a king or ‘president’ is too powerful and the people threatened to rise up, it is the military that steps in and deposes the leader, so that people don’t gain too much power.  The reason this came up to me, or that there are several news articles recently on both the left and the right that are talking about the military in regards to presidential candidate Donald Trump. Articles on both the left  and the right are threatening that the military and intelligence sectors could well ignore Trump is elected. In an election year in which the people were so mobilized, it makes one wonder if the old separation of powers may rear its head again.


How to Interpret a “Smoking Gun”

Default.aspx_At one point, I will get into the complexity and self-terminating nature of the phrase “conspiracy theory,” but suffice to say these are the things that both intrigue me and get under my skin. In the nature of calling something a “conspiracy theory” the natural motivation, of course, is to ignore it. The problem is that by definition there is nothing inherently crazy about the concept of a conspiracy, it just means that a group has gotten together and planned something. We, in fact, know of several conspiracies that were true and some uncomfortably so, from the Catiline in ancient Rome to the Business Plot of the 1930s. Additionally, there is something terrifying  about the notion that everyone is out to get you. I will get into conspiratorial thinking in another post, but for the time being, there I want to address a specific theory I have heard many times before and is making the rounds again; the Death of Adolf Hitler.

While most people, thankfully, believe the horrors that the Nazis committed under Hitler, Himmler, and Goebbels actually happened, the nature of his end is frustrating to many. Dying by his own hand and getting no catharsis of seeing the body seems disproportionate with the crimes of the madman. This is made all the worse by the circus that the Nuremberg trials became.  Further, as Elie Wiesel searched for Nazis and found many escaped among the boys from Brazil and Argentina, questions began to arise about the true nature of Hitler’s end.

The official account about Hitler’s murder/co-suicide of his wife Eva Braun, the immolation of the bodies, the Soviet ransack and the decimation of the Furherbunker were all part of the official report and book written and painstakingly researched by Hugh Trevor-Roper in The Last Days of Hitler (1947) who was working for British Military Intelligence.  These claims were agreed to by the Soviets whose SMERSH claimed several trophies, including skull fragments.

However, panic sweeps through when documents such as the one above. If you read it at a glance, as those who maintain the anonymous blog did, you may think that this is evidence that Hitler escaped aboard a submarine and landed in Argentina, as many Hitler escaping theories contain. The document at hand seems to be one of those smoking guns.

According to the redacted copy in front of us, a man who met an FBI official in a restaurant in LA in September 1945. The man claimed to have helped six Argentine officials hide Hitler in the southern Andes mountains. To add to the mystery, the FBI asked for a followup meeting, but the man never returned and there were no police records or INS records. Spooooky. Maybe they got to them first! However, this would require both belief in this man.

There are some assumptions that I want you to drop. First, that just because this is an actual FBI document, that what it is documenting is real. This was right after the war, everything was written down and followed up on. We had been losing the war on intelligence, we didn’t want that to happen again. This does not mean the events were true. If you go to the FBI and claim you saw Elvis or that the the Bush family are Reptilians, they write it down. They may follow up, but that does not mean it is true. Most likely, the man got in too deep and backed out using a fake name. There is nothing more. Hitler died in the bunker, no matter how unsatisfying that was, but that is that.

Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

“History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.” – Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream

I know this quote is probably not the ontological narrative or historiographical prose you expect to see at the downloadbeginning of one of these posts. My passion is cultural and intellectual history, however, when I developed this interest as an undergrad, I pictured writing about the history of Christmas and Superheroes as a concept. So my when my Masters was filled with the overwhelming sinking feeling of nature of being introduced to Michel Foucault, Hayden White, Jürgen Habermas, Eric Hobsbawm, Benedict Anderson, Judith Butler, et al., I felt overwhelmed, like I started to lose touch with the history I so enjoyed. As a teacher at heart, I see the cultural narrative in the zeitgeist of poetry and song. For me, there is more about the working class struggle and drive for success in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman than in Max Weber’s Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.“

As an academic, in my mind, my job is not singular; it is two-fold. I need to love being in the library. I need to love research. And, frankly, I need to love Max Weber. I have overcome that fear of Michel Foucault, Hayden White, Jürgen Habermas, Eric Hobsbawm, Benedict Anderson, and Judith Butler. However, the other part of the job is to teach that information. One’s research needs to add something to humanity (as my professor Dr. Denis Gainty told my 7045 class). Unfortunately, a lot of what history adds to the narratives has wide reaching extremes.
As a child of cable TV, I grew up in the era of commercialized and commoditized history on the History Channel. The 1960s I was taught was very polar, between hippies, Civil Rights, and Anti-War against the establishment. Black and White. Over time, these ideologies won or lost, but are long since gone. Nixon was evil. History was sterilized and closed. Anti-War people today? They were a different breed! Movements were contained to an era. The radical ‘60s were such an era. On the other extreme are the dense, almost foreign texts, designed more to impress one’s peers than to impart knowledge to the populous. It was this that nearly kept me out of academia.

As an undergrad, between my Attention Deficit Disorder (diagnosed not slang) and some of the books I was assigned, such as Eric Hobsbawm’s The Age of Revolutions, made me think that academia was beyond reach. I felt like professors were a breed apart until History 101 + 102.

As a sophomore at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, I was in a US History survey course under the impressive skill of Dr. Allan Winkler, a brilliant professor who had a predilection for leading lecture halls of some 300 students in the chorus of “Wabash Cannonball.” As outside reading for the post-Civil War segment of the course, we were assigned Ragged Dick by Horatio Alger. Through the predictable dime novel plot and the simple “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” morality is the nugget of the American Dream; the sly and cunning object at the heart of American Identity which drives immigrants to these shores and the working class to hope for a better life. As we sat down with the TA and discussed it, my experiences with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas came roaring back.

Like many readers in the decades since its publication, Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream has resonated with me. I know this associates me with the dozens helpless druggies that see deeper meaning in all things, but I urge that this is not the case. Along with many others my age, I saw the Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro movie in high school and soon after read the book. However, not unlike The Big Lebowski, the movie seemed merely to exude a form of livelihood my mundane middle class white upbringing did not. I was not a druggie. I was a nerd, frankly, and with that, all the trappings of school work and attentiveness to study. Fear and Loathing represented a challenge to that.

The story is told through the character Raoul Duke, a representation of Hunter S. Thompson’s own experiences in Las Vegas. Thompson’s urging in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is much more complex than a standard exploring America narration like Kerouac’s On the Road. Thompson’s search for the American dream is a definin
g literary moment of New Journalism, becoming, as Thompson himself put it, Gonzo Journalism. The sensational mixture of fiction and autobiography, curiosity and confidence, fear and loathing, creates a world in which the broken man looking for the American dream finds both its death and still beating heart and the core of shallow soullessness in a vivid parody of the 19th and early 20th century oddity that is the Circus Circus casino.

While the book writhes in the bizarre and hilarious from the opening lines of “We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold” to the description of the drugs in the trunk “We had two bags of grass, 75 pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a saltshaker half-full of cocaine, a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers… Also, a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of beer, a pint of raw ether, and two dozen amyls. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.” However, the books core message is one of loss. They really are trying to find the dream lost and as a desperate searcher, he looks for the signs of victory of his movement; his people.

“Strange memories onthis nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era—the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run . . . but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant. . . .

There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda. . . . You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . .

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”


In many ways, the Wave Speech (as seen above) is the very essence of what history is. The book is filled with utter chaos and distraction. Yet out of that chaos, comes a sad truth, a narration of a bygone generation. The job is the historian, the true historian, is to not just describe what happened, but why. To get to academia, we have to denigrate the ‘what,’ ‘where,’ and the ‘who,’ to being just the starting point of the story.

In depicting the character of Raoul Duke, Hunter Thompson is the cartoon of a character after the era. He is the quintessential sixties washout. While his attempts to grapple with the idea of America are humorous, his attempts to discover the American Dream are incredible. The dark heart of the American Dream he discovers is sublime. The sense of loss, the sense of defeat, the realization of the end of an era is incredible. History is not mundane and finished. History is a social and cultural movement. It is not black and white.

This work had weight to me. As I started to understand that weight, I put into context some of the heavier works. I spread out to Howard Zinn and James Loewen. I realized that Hunter S. Thompson’s form of journalism as a foil to the other “new journalists” of Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, or Joan Didion represented the recollection of a tarnished era that its survivors still grapple with for meaning. If that is not academic, then I cannot be either.

Casting Magic Missile into the Darkness

This morning was disorienting. I know as a historian, especially one that is working on his PhD, talking about such personal stuff is bizarre. However, I woke up disoriented. Last night, after a series of thunderstorms, the power had gone out. This is all the more unusual for my neighborhood since our power lines are underground, so even during the snow-tastro-pacalypse we didn’t lose power. Yet there I was this morning, groggily turning off my cellphone alarm (had I not had my alarm on my cellphone, I would still be asleep and, frankly, grateful), then absently flicking at the light switch to no avail. Sighing and realizing what this meant for my morning coffee consumption, I showered by iPhone light and moved on.

This is all the more appropriate with my in class lectures yesterday. In my first period AP US class, we talked briefly about Thomas Edison, yes, that Edison. The magic he produced is not just the glowing orb of the light bulb, but so much more than that. The colorful image you have of Edison holding a glowing sphere is a perfect representation of the man, but not the machine, so to speak. Technically, Edison was not the inventor of electric light even. Humphrey Davy created electric light when he developed a modern battery in 1802. Even the modern incandescent light was invented by Sir Joseph Swan in 1860, 18 years before Edison modernized the design. What made Edison different? Longevity. Edison’s lights could list 1200 hours (so he claimed), but there is still more than that.

The idea of buying bulbs from Home Depot and replacing the burnt one is a very common idea now, but that was not always the case. To put it in context, we need to think about electricity on the whole. Impressed with his designs, J. P. Morgan starts to give substantial money to Thomas Edison for electricity research. Power plants (on a small scale) were not uncommon, but the potential for electricity was just being realized. To find investors for his growing company that would become General Electric, J. P. Morgan had Edison electrify his house so he could demonstrate the magical electric lights. In his basement, Edison and co. built a power plant (coal stoked) and ran wires, so, dramatically Morgan could blow out traditional lamps, but the room would still be aglow. Drunk on power and success, Morgan and Edison agreed to electrify a block on Pearl Street, giving electricity to 59 customers.

However, for a moment, let’s think about the technological matter at hand before we get to the cultural one. A bulb is nothing, but a pretty glass sphere without electricity (duh, I know, but follow me). Outside a lab setting, Edison needs to develop a socket to standardize the bulb. He needs to build and standardize gauges of wire. He needs to develop transistors and circuit breakers. He needs to create a current that is consistent. Hundreds of hours, dozens of patents, for a city block. When the job is done, it is so standard in fact, that before wall jacks or wall sockets were standardized, people had light socket adapters for toasters and the like for the ceiling socket in their house. The cultural part of all this? Edison helps to defeat the dark. Yes there were candles, but they were dangerous, expensive and short. Night falling and day breaking were your time limits, but electric lights allowed work to go on, streets to become safer at night and the world changed.

But right now, all I want is my coffee.

High School Historiography Wiki

Dear All!

If you tried to access the High School Historiography wiki lately, I apologize that it went down due to hacker jerks. However, the issue is fixed. The only change to the site is that you have to be a logged in account now that I have verified. Please continue your help and thanks!

Nicolas Hoffmann

Guest Post on Tropics of Meta: Dog Days Classics: Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

I know this quote is probably not the ontological narrative or historiographical prose you expect to see at the beginning of one of these posts.  My passion is cultural and intellectual history, but when I developed this interest as an undergrad, I pictured writing about the history of Christmas and Superheroes as a concept. So my when my Masters was filled with the overwhelming sinking feeling of nature of being introduced to Michel Foucault, Hayden White, Jürgen Habermas, Eric Hobsbawm, Benedict Anderson, Judith Butler, et al, I felt overwhelmed, like I started to lose touch with the history I so enjoyed. As a teacher at heart, I see the cultural narrative in the zeitgeist of poetry and song. For me, there is more about the working class struggle and drive for success in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman than in Max Weber’s Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

To read the rest, check out the article here.