Newt Knight

Free State of Jones (2016)

We just finished watching Free State of Jones starring one of my favorite Austinites, Matthew McConaughey. I really, really wanted to like this movie, which is probably why its meh presentation frustrated and disappointed me so thoroughly. It’s slow in places. The film makes some unexpected turns and time jumps that leave the audience puzzling over events and characters, distracting them from what is happening on the screen.

Perhaps another editor could have fixed this problem? It’s really hard to say. Films like this one are a testament to just how hard it is to get even the most gripping stories and well-written scripts in front of audiences in a form that they will understand and appreciate. Thousands of people have to do their jobs flawlessly. The directors, editors, and producers all have to have the same vision of the finished product in mind the entire time that the film is in production. The actors have to create believable characterizations that can speak to the viewing audience. The film crew and audio crew have to capture those performances flawlessly. If any one group of people fails to do their job, including craft services, that failure will be noticeable in the finished product. If what the audience ends up watching doesn’t connect, for whatever reason, all of those people’s time, energy and dedication can come to naught. It is heartbreaking when this happens to good actors and good stories.

The story of Free State of Jones is one that everyone should be familiar with, but have probably never heard before. It is a portion of the life story of Newt Knight, a plantation owner who never owned slaves while living in the slave state of Mississippi in the years leading up to the Civil War,

“He was a Primitive Baptist who didn’t drink, didn’t cuss, doted on children and could reload and fire a double-barreled, muzzle-loading shotgun faster than anyone else around,” said Moulds. “Even as an old man, if someone rubbed him the wrong way, he’d have a knife at their throat in a heartbeat. A lot of people will tell you that Newt was just a renegade, out for himself, but there’s good evidence that he was a man of strong principles who was against secession, against slavery and pro-Union.”

Smithsonian Mag.,The True Story of the ‘Free State of Jones’, March 2016

After volunteering for the Confederate army and being involved in several botched battles with heavy casualties, he deserted the army and returned to Jones County and his now-ruined plantation. All of this is covered in the movie, to some extent. What extent is real and what is contrived for the convenience of filmatic storytelling is open to question; open to question because not even historians agree when it comes to the details of Newt Knight’s life. The one thing they all do seem to agree on is that, after the war was ended and the South was returned to the Union, Newt Knight remained a supporter of equal rights for all without regard to skin color. Which is why he’s still a pariah in his home state and even in the county of Jones, Mississippi. It is also one possible explanation as to why the film about his story is so hard to follow. It’s hard to follow because the principles involved in the film are too close to the subject matter and so cannot see the big picture, the story that needs to be told.

Which is a shame. Because the story of a white Southerner who rebelled against secession, a plantation owner who hated slavery, is exactly the kind of story this country needs right now. It just isn’t the story that the film Free State of Jones ends up telling. Maybe someday the events of that war, the history of slavery in the US, all of it will be far enough in the past that we can give the story of Newt Knight a proper telling in a visual medium. Maybe in that future time there will be a monument to Newt Knight in the Jones county seat, and not a monument to the Confederate soldiers of the Civil War. The existence of that monument is a testament to the fact that the cause of the Civil War still exists in the minds of the people living in the old South and all across the United States. The cause still has converts living in the US right now. Maybe someday we will end that war, if we are lucky.

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

William Faulkner

Expanded from four sentences, 27 words and a web address, written as a Facebook status. To say I expanded this one is just a bit of an understatement. 

Monuments to Traitors

Statues of Confederate figures are coming down all over the country, but the names of generals who fought for the South during the Civil War remain on U.S. military bases.

Ten Army posts in the South are named for Confederate officers — including the nation’s largest, Fort Bragg in North Carolina. It’s named for Gen. Braxton Bragg, who commanded 40,000 troops battling the Union Army.

NBC

Military bases should not be named for traitors anymore than we should have monuments to traitors on our soil. This really is a no-brainer of a problem, especially when you realize that most of the Confederate monuments were installed as part of the resurgence of White Supremacy in the early part of the 20th century, not part of remembrance for true American war heroes.

This is basic common sense, monuments are to people who deserve to be admired, not to people who fought on the wrong side of history attempting to extend the time that their peculiar institution could be practiced without being seen as the injustice that it was. The names should be changed, the monuments removed and replaced with more appropriate remembrances. Maybe each statue should be replaced with a lynching memorial, a reflection of the true legacy of slavery.

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New York Timesmuseumandmemorial.eji.org

You want to raise up a statue to forgotten Americans? You want a symbol in the town square that is a monument to our history? To the best of us? That reminds us of bravery and courage and sacrifice, of ideals that all Americans can embrace? To men we can all admire? Tear down Robert E. Lee and raise up Henry Johnson and Freddie Stowers in his place. Those are the men we should never forget.

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Texas Trying to Secede. Again.

Hanging around the fringes of Texas politics as I have off and on over the last 20 years, you hear a lot of strange ideas. Texas is conspiracy fantasy central in many ways, and Austin being the capitol of Texas means that the conspiratorial currents all lead to the vortex located at 15th and Congress.

Since the clean sweep that the GOP experienced in 2014, the wackos have come out of the woodwork and aren’t embarrassed to let their freak flag fly. Over the last year we’ve had the whole Jade Helm 15 teapot tempest, the newly elected governor calling out the Texas Guard to defend Texas against the largest military on the face of the planet. Governor Abbott calling out the underfunded and understaffed Texas Guard to face down the unquestionable might of the US military. Facing down a US military that maintains troops in superior numbers to the Texas guard, just at the bases inside Texas (not to mention Texas citizens in the service of the US Army) troops that are included in the Jade Helm training exercises. We’ve seen the governor’s replacement in the office of Attorney General arrested and booked while embroiled in a scheme to deny marriage certificates to gay couples who wanted to get married in the wake of the SCOTUS decision.

Texans are also suffering due to continued resistance to the ACA by our sitting legislature and governor.  The ACA may be the law of the land according to the federal government, but the overwhelming majority of Texans spit at it as Obamacare, while at the same time whole segments of the Texas population who can’t afford to buy health insurance are left without any healthcare options because they make too much money to get Medicaid under the old rules, but are still supposed to have health insurance or face penalties.

Since all of this is Obama’s fault, it should be no wonder that a perennial favorite of the Texas conspiratorial fantasists is making the rounds again. Yes dear readers, we are faced with the dreaded initiative to secede from the Union. Again.

As I said previously, those of us who’ve been paying attention are not surprised to learn that the beast has raised its ugly head again. The history of the Texas secession movement is both long and checkered. I’m not going to go through all of it (the wiki page does a decent enough job of it) but it bears mentioning that many shady people for many long years have declared not only that Texas should secede, but that it probably isn’t legally a state of the Union.

Help, help we’re being repressed!

Texas not being a state would be news to the rest of the United States, since Texas manages to pretty much have its way with all sorts of things that affect other parts of the country. Make no mistake, the rest of the US knows that Texas is a state, much as many of them might rather it wasn’t.

The problem is, most Texans can’t be bothered to read;  and those that do read really can’t make heads or tails out of the Texas Constitution.  Or maybe it isn’t a problem with reading.  Maybe it’s a problem with who writes the books, especially the text books. In any case, these factors have lead to a number of interesting fantasies considering the nature of Texas’ relationship to the rest of the nation, as well as its status as a state.

Most Texans have heard the 5 states story, I’m sure.  The theory that Texas could be split up into 5 different states? The first time I heard it, the provision was in the Texas Constitution; which would be quite a feat I quickly discovered.  Upon the briefest of searches I learned that Texas has had seven constitutions since she left Mexico. So it isn’t in the Texas Constitution, not that we can tell among the nearly 500 amendments that have been passed (second only to Alabama. Saved again, Texas) The provision was actually imposed by the US Congress (those imperialists!) in their legislation which annexed Texas into the Union.

This is the tidbit that most people have probably never realized. Texas has already been split into 5 states. There are pieces of Texas in Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas and Wyoming; and while this may not have been the intention of the drafters of the legislation, Texas was paid for the severance of these lands, and they are no longer part of the state. So, yes. Texas could be subdivided, and those crazy plans to have Texas dominate the Senate by breaking itself into 5 or 6 more states that would somehow still vote in lockstep are all too late.  The deed has already been done.

The southwestern tip of Kansas was claimed by Texas. Dodge City was in Texas. Glad to know that. “Gunsmoke” always seemed like a Texas series. We know that Marshal Matt Dillon was born in San Antonio. His father was a Texas Ranger. It’s all coming together.

KUT, W.F. Strong, Sure, Texas Is Big – But It Used to Be Even Bigger

Another one of these fantasies is that Texas has permission to secede from the union.  This feature would be a truly curious development considering that all the slave states reacquired by the union after the civil war were required to renounce any intention to leave the union again as a condition for readmittance as states, as well as adopt the 13th and 14th Amendments. Most scholars agree that there is no basis to assume that a State could secede from the Union; it would be hard to see how this would be possible outside of the failure of the United States as a political entity and a military power.  These facts didn’t stop former Governor Rick Perry from voicing his opinion that Texas could secede at a rally full of supporters chanting for secession.  This wouldn’t be the first time that Rick Perry was in error, especially when it comes to the subject of law.  I wouldn’t put too much stock in his remembering facts about secession, or evolution, or whatever that third thing was (have you figured that out yet, Mr Perry? It’s the branch of the administration that you currently lead – editor)

…in hindsight Rick Perry’s governorship feels like a walk at the wildflower center compared to the level of crazy currently ensconced in the capitol building. Between Governor Abbott’s blatant hypocrisy as a disabled person who was uniquely situated to keep other disabled person’s from taking his road to Wellville, his trumped-up war on Planned Parenthood, his initiative to remove local control from Texas cities, and the legislature’s rejection of a minimum wage hike, it’s hard to imagine how life could get more grim than it currently is for the average Texan.  Which goes a long way towards explaining the desperation present in movements to secede as a political entity from the United States. Again.

A side word here for my fellow Texans.  Ya’ll might want to go back and read my piece on Greece in Perspective (hint, it really isn’t about Greece) and ponder at the level of desperation that you feel today and just who really is to blame for that.  Is it at all possible that that blame currently resides in a white house a good bit closer to you than Washington D.C.?

As an illustration of just how well history rhymes, here are the words of Governor Sam Houston as he was forced out of  office by confederate zealots in 1861.

Fellow-Citizens, in the name of your rights and liberties, which I believe have been trampled upon, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the nationality of Texas, which has been betrayed by the Convention, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the Constitution of Texas, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of my own conscience and manhood, which this Convention would degrade by dragging me before it, to pander to the malice of my enemies, I refuse to take this oath. I deny the power of this Convention to speak for Texas….I protest….against all the acts and doings of this convention and I declare them null and void.

Texans have once again been lied to and betrayed; not by Washington, but by the leadership of the conservative religious power base that dominates all of Texas politics.  They are lied to nightly by the talking heads at FOX news, in the hopes that we will blame each other rather than the leadership in this state that has brought us to this impasse. From the moment that conservatives declared that science was a matter of opinion, that critical thinking was something to be avoided,  their entire ideology became a house of cards which could be blown down by the slightest breeze.

Imagine Sam Houston’s outrage at the knowledge that in a park that bears his name, in the city that bears his name, stands a monument to the folly that he gave up the leadership of Texas for rather than embark upon.  What would he think of the even more foolish notion that Texas could or should leave the union again?

I love Texas too well to bring civil strife and bloodshed upon her.

Sam Houston

Lincoln & Slavery

I was on Facebook the other day (it was months ago, actually. Another post he forgot to publish. Editor) after having just watched the movie Lincoln and stumbled across an image posted on the wall of Free Talk Live a libertarian syndicated radio show / podcast that I’ve always considered a bit of a train wreck. Unfortunately I don’t have time to sit around listening to train wrecks these days, so I haven’t listened to the show in quite a while.

In the image, someone had taken one of Lincoln’s quotes out of context and edited it.  It ran like this,

I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position.

But that quote was a part of a larger speech; and even the partial quote is internally edited. I won’t reprint it all here, but it’s available at the National Parks Service website; Lincoln-Douglas Ottawa Debate.  The paragraph the partial quote comes from runs like this;

Now, gentlemen, I don’t want to read at any greater length, but this is the true complexion of all I have ever said in regard to the institution of slavery and the black race. This is the whole of it, and anything that argues me into his idea of perfect social and political equality with the negro, is but a specious and fantastic arrangement of words, by which a man can prove a horse-chestnut to be a chestnut horse. [Laughter.] I will say here, while upon this subject, that I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so. I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position. I have never said anything to the contrary, but I hold that, notwithstanding all this, there is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. [Loud cheers.] I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man. I agree with Judge Douglas he is not my equal in many respects-certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the right to eat the bread, without the leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man. [Great applause.]

Lincoln-Douglas Ottawa Debate

As is shown in the pasted complete paragraph, the contextual relationship of the offered quote changes the meaning of the quote, completely.  The anti-Lincoln types (and most critics of historical figures) rely on the average person’s lack of context for the words, so that the people they are trying to convert to their negative views will be outraged by the statements alone, and never look to see the bigger picture, let alone read a book or several of them on the subject, just to get a feel for the perspective in which this debate was held.

Yes, he said those things; that blacks and whites were too different, that he had no intention of ending slavery in the South; and yet he worked to make these things so. Could it be that he was disseminating in order to put at ease those who would never have allowed negro equality before the law had they believed that it would lead to full equality? Maybe the naysayers, and those who would be persuaded by them, should study history with an eye for the real truths rather than parse it for statements that can be used to indict men whose actions have proven to be just in spite of their words.

The truth is, it was not Lincoln’s war. The South started the war because they could not abide the presence of Northern force on their territory. Had they not been ready and willing to exert force themselves, the tally would have come up differently.

Had the abolitionists admitted at the time that they were for black suffrage (let alone the ad absurdum of women’s suffrage) or any other form of political equality no progress towards ending slavery would have been achieved, and we would probably still have legally enforced ownership of people today.

Libertarians often talk about how “Lincoln ended black slavery, only to enslave all of us”.  The enslavement that libertarians like that suffer under is ideological in nature. They are enslaved to their own ideology more than they are enslaved to some external force. It forces them to denounce actions that conflict with their espoused beliefs, even when those actions can be shown to benefit all of us. The ending of legal slavery set up the possibility for average people to make a living being employed by another.

The question we should be asking today is not whether the actions of the first Republican President were just; but exactly how the last involuntary servitude, prison labor, is different from what was abolished in 1865? How are free men to compete with this, when the full cost of ‘maintaining’ this workforce is not present in the purchase price of the goods made with their labor? How are we to compete, as a labor force, against entire national populations that are kept almost as prisoners in their own countries? Why do we as a people not rise up and demand that the laws be changed? Will we spend precious time fighting over past ills, rather than prevent our own demise in the near future?

When you object and say we are all slaves, you offer the unstated observation that we should return to the preferable state of owning other people in order to save ourselves. When you trumpet the virtue of JW Booth, you place back-shooting conspiracy as a higher value than diplomacy and negotiation.

JW Booth did a disservice to entire nation, all the way down to our current day, with his bullet. Reconstruction under Lincoln would have looked nothing like it did at the hands of his inheritors. Democrat (like Andrew Johnson was) or Republican.

I consider it the height of hubris to hold historical figures to modern standards as if they could be anything other than a product of their times. Such is human nature and the human condition. As goes Lincoln, so go we all, in a nutshell. Either we choose to participate in the world around us, or we withdraw and demand the world meet us on our terms. I don’t consider the latter to be much of a life.  

SBOE Approves Bible Course Guidelines

Gotta love this. The Texas Legislature, not satisfied with simply raping the Texas State pledge and making the students say god during newly mandatory daily pledge recitations (god twice, if you count the mandatory federal pledge recitations. Could be even three times if you choose to pray during your mandatory moment of silence. I don’t like pledging, in case you hadn’t heard) has also decided that Texas students need more indoctrination into the already pervasive christian religion; so they have passed a law that all but mandates bible school classes be offered in Texas public high schools.

…And the SBOE, run by ID supporter Don McLeroy has dutifully passed guidelines, clearing the way for these courses to be taught.

Board members approved the new class, which will be in some high schools this fall, even though officials are awaiting an opinion from the attorney general on whether the state law authorizing the course requires all school districts to offer it.

The board adopted general guidelines for the course on a 10-5 vote, disregarding the advice of several members of the House Public Education Committee who urged approval of more specific requirements to head off the possibility of constitutional violations and lawsuits.

“It’s better for us to go ahead and do something now,” said board member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond. “We have met the requirements of the legislation. We don’t want to stifle what they [school districts] are doing in classrooms.”

Attorney General Greg Abbott has told the board that although the state standards for the Bible class appear to be in compliance with the First Amendment, his office can’t guarantee that the courses taught in high schools will be constitutional because they haven’t been reviewed.

Critics contend that the standards – based on old guidelines for independent studies in English and social studies – are so vague and general that many schools might unknowingly create unconstitutional Bible classes that either promote the religious views of teachers or disparage the religious beliefs of some students.

Earlier this year, the Ector County school board agreed to quit using a Bible course curriculum at two high schools in Odessa that the American Civil Liberties Union said promoted Protestant religious beliefs not shared by Jews, Catholics, Orthodox Christians and many Protestants.

However, state board members supporting the Bible course rule adopted Friday said such lawsuits are rare and should not be a problem for most school districts.

Board member Pat Hardy, R-Weatherford, who voted against the proposal, said teachers of the course would be given far less direction from the state than they receive in most other subjects.

“We need to do more work on this instead of jumping off into the abyss,” she said.

The course is supposed to be geared to academic, nondevotional study of the Bible, and cover such things as the influence of the New Testament on law, literature, history and culture.

Dallas News

So, we in Texas can look forward to turning out students who erroneously think that murder is illegal because the Ten Commandments say you shouldn’t do it. How long before they start teaching a nondevotional course on the Qur’an or the Talmud? Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? I wouldn’t hold my breath.

For me, the solution is simple. Take the Bible Class Challenge.

American AtheistsThe Texas Bible Class Challenge

If the schools know that they are going to face hostile students in these classes, very few of them will want to offer them in the first place. If the schools offer the classes, and don’t respect the contrary opinions, they can be shut down through lawsuits. It’s an expense we the taxpayers should not have to face, but then we elected these idiots to do this to us, apparently.