Drinks With Dead People

Raise a glass to history.

Page 3 of 5

John C. Calhoun

Have a drink with: John C. Calhoun
The “cast-iron man,” nullifier, racist.

Ask him about: getting into college

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Yale University recently announced that it would retain the name of 19th century politician and slavery advocate John C. Calhoun on one of its twelve undergraduate residential colleges. The decision has been broadly condemned: on Twitter, #FormerlyKnownAsCalhoun quickly topped the trends list, and singer Janelle Monae used Yale’s Spring Fling stage to lead protest chants, calling Calhoun a “white supremacist.”

In a note to the Yale community, university president Peter Salovey justified the decision with the statement that removing Calhoun’s name “obscures the legacy of slavery rather than addressing it.”

But was John Calhoun history’s intolerant yet benign uncle, whom we harmlessly leave at the dinner table to rant, and should we care that his name’s on an Ivy League building?

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Fanny Hill

Have a drink with: Fanny Hill
Grin grin, wink wink, say no more?

Ask her about: Sex and the (eighteenth-century) city

Fanny_Hill_2114

My friend Dan Klau, who writes a wonderful appellate law blog at Appealingly Brief, and who also just launched a government-accountability site at CT Good Governance – because transparency is very cool – recently posted this link about Ted Cruz’s advocacy as solicitor general in support of a Texas state law outlawing the sale or promotion of sex toys.

In 2007, Cruz and his team prepared a 76-page brief to the 5th Circuit, arguing to uphold the Texas statute and claiming in part that “‘any alleged right associated with obscene devices’ is not ‘deeply rooted in the Nation’s history and traditions.’”

I’ve got news for Ted: few things are a more consistent and popular part of the Nation’s history and traditions than alleging rights in the obscene.

Don’t believe me? Just ask the U.S. Supreme Court about Fanny Hill.

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The Wellington Statue

Have a drink with: The Duke of Wellington Statue
“A gigantic triumph of bad taste over public opinion.”

Ask it about: Free beer.

Wellington_Statue_2028

In the 1830’s, the Napoleonic Wars were still fresh in memory and Britain was eager to redecorate. Since few things say classicism, patriotism and self-praise quite like a good monument, the idea arose to honor Arthur Wellesley (better known as the Duke of Wellington) with a grand commemorative statue.

Depicting the “Iron Duke” on his trusty horse Copenhagen as the pair might have appeared during the Battle of Waterloo, the bronze statue was commissioned of sculptor Matthew Cotes Wyatt to sit atop a sculptured arch in Hyde Park Corner. Wyatt planned a statue thirty feet high and weighing forty tons, making it the largest equestrian statue in Britain at the time.

He did not plan on all of Britain thinking he was the giant horse’s ass in the whole affair.

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The Twelfth Amendment

Have a drink with: The Twelfth Amendment
Congressional Thunderdome.

Ask it about: Can it get us tickets to Hamilton?

Contingent_Election

Last week former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote a public letter explaining his considered refusal to declare candidacy in the presidential election. Bloomberg described the election thus far as “doubling down on dysfunction,” and you can’t exactly blame him for that since the delegate situation is a mess, conservatives are allegedly calling for a convention brawl, the Simpsons predicted President Trump back in 2000, and third-party candidacy is suddenly a hot topic).

Bloomberg, though, tucked a little something else in there:

“In a three-way race, it’s unlikely any candidate would win a majority of electoral votes, and then the power to choose the president would be taken out of the hands of the American people and thrown to Congress.”

This is not made up. It’s the Twelfth Amendment, and I can explain it to you. With musicals!

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The White House Easter Egg Roll

Have a drink at: The White House Egg Roll
Mr. President, can we play in your yard?

Ask Rutherford B. Hayes about: Inviting 600 kids over for Easter

Easter_Egg_Roll

It was 1876. Congress was debating expenditures, and they were in a pickle over the Capitol grounds – every year at Easter, the place was swamped with kids and families rolling dyed eggs down the hills. This in and of itself was ok, but the overall ruckus made a mess of the lawn, and Congress’ landscaping budget was totally dry for the year. Plus, this was an age where cattle still routinely grazed in downtown D.C. and people were totally freaking out the cows.

So Congress, in its characteristic fun-loving spirit, proposed a solution in the form of “An act to protect the public property, turf and grass of the Capitol grounds from injury,” reading:

It shall be the duty of the Capitol police on and after April 29, 1876, to prevent any portion of the Capitol Grounds and terraces from being used as playgrounds or otherwise, so far as may be necessary to protect the public property, turf and grass from destruction or injury.

The President was on board, and the Capitol Building Turf Protection Act was enacted on April 21, 1876. You may now in your mind picture Ulysses S. Grant shaking his fist and shouting, “Hey you kids, get off my lawn!”

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The All Writs Act

Have a drink with: The All Writs Act
Ain’t no party like a statutory party, because a statutory party
is subject to judicial review.

Don’t give it: your iPhone passcode

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Beginning with the iOS8 version of its operating system, Apple has used encryption that makes it impossible for anyone but the user to access the passcode-protected information on their iPhone.  Yesterday, a California district court issued an order asking Apple to create a bypass by which the FBI could access information on a recovered iPhone linked to the December shootings in San Bernardino, citing the All Writs Act – a piece of legislation derived from the Judiciary Act of 1789 – as legal basis.

In an open letter Apple has opposed the order, citing the integrity of its customer relationships and the sanctity of customer information.

This is fascinating, and on the bleeding edge of technology, privacy, law and communication as they intersect in the 21st century. But in the meantime, wait: did that say 1789? Are we really going after an iPhone with a muzzle-loader?

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Vinegar Valentines

Have a drink with: Vinegar Valentines
You’re awful; I love you

Ask them about: Negging in the Victorian era

Vinegar_Valentines_1649

Is Valentine’s Day not for you? Are you sick to death of hearts and teddy bears? Can Starbucks shove its molten chocolate latte up its molten mermaid tail? Are you looking for something that more befits the holiday in our modern age, but maybe short of actually cheering for gangland murder?

Search no more, for here to the rescue is the heartless Internet troll of the 19th century: the insult comic valentine.

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P.T. Barnum

Have a drink with: P.T. Barnum
Ask him to bring Jumbo. That elephant could drink.

Ask him about: Picking your Powerball numbers

PT_Barnum_Lottery

Last week I gave in to the siren song of Powerball and joined millions of other people in the giddy exercise of mentally spending the billion-plus dollars of my inevitable destiny (what would it cost for the local museum to let me ride the Brontosaurus skeleton, anyway?).

The unprecedented size of the recent jackpot may have created a real and novel sense of reward, but it doesn’t change the most fundamental truth about the lottery, which has remained unchanged over centuries: the real money isn’t in winning the lottery so much as it is in running it.

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Ian Fleming

Have a drink with: Ian Fleming
Shaken, not stirred.

Ask him: hey, can we bring drinks into the library?

In 1963 a major exhibition of rare books and printed treasures called Printing and the Mind of Man went up at the Eleventh International Printing Machinery and Allied Trades Exhibition (IPEX) in London, displaying some four hundred historic books borrowed from dozens of libraries and private individuals and billing itself as “the most impressive collection of books ever gathered under one roof.” Among other treasures, visitors could see a broadsheet copy of the Declaration of Independence and a one-of-a-kind leaf from the Gutenberg Bible. The King’s College library at Cambridge was the leading exhibitor, with fifty-one items.

In second place, with forty-four: Ian Fleming.

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The Whaleman’s Gift Guide

Have a drink with: Yankee Whalers
Amazon Wish List: a dead whale or a stove boat.

Ask them about: holiday shopping

Holiday_Scrimshaw

Ron Howard’s new movie In the Heart of the Sea, a film adaptation of Nathaniel Philbrick’s excellent book of the same name, tells the story of the Essex, a Nantucket whaler rammed and sunk by a whale in the Pacific Ocean, and of her crew grimly struggling for survival miles from anywhere.

So whaling is a hot topic right now, and I am all about that. I could talk to you about whether Melville aped the Essex tale when creating Moby-Dick, what it feels like to take a Nantucket sleigh ride, or even whether or not the Essex crew’s fear of fierce cannibal islanders was legitimate (short answers: a little; waterskiing on your face; not really).

But let’s face it, it’s the holidays, and you are no doubt wondering to yourself: what’s the perfect gift for that special person in my life? Wonder no more: the Yankee whaler’s gift guide knows exactly how to get your presents on-trend for 2015.

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