BuzzFeed Britain Names the States!

British CountiesYou may remember back a couple of years, I introduced you to the Know Your States game at Jim’s Pages. I call it a game, but it is also a great tool to learn your states and where they are. And that’s a good thing, because Americans are hopeless when it comes to geography. I know I am! But I’ve gotten a whole lot better. And by playing the game obsessively for a while, I’ve actually gotten to the point that I know all the states. (The game itself is a lot harder than that; you have to be able to place them pretty accurately on a blank map.)

Bearing this in mind, I was pleased to see that BuzzFeed does a fun thing, We Asked Brits to Label the United States Again, Because It’s A Thanksgiving Tradition. Yes, it is a tradition: this is the second year that they’ve done it. And the main thing that comes across is that the people working in the London office of BuzzFeed are very clever, even if they don’t know much about the geography of the United States.

Most of them are very funny, but you really need to click over to BuzzFeed to see them because they would be too small to read here. But this one makes a serious point:

Brits Draw America

I would go further. I think these Brits actually do a whole lot better a job than the vast majority of Americans. That’s why you should play Know Your States. We’ve got to beat the Brits!

Why All the Uncle Bashing?

Drunk UncleThe fine people at Vox have put together, How to Survive Your Family’s Thanksgiving Arguments. It deals with everything from football to Common Core to Bill Cosby. And it is really good — as usual. But I couldn’t help but notice a whole lot of avuncularism — or uncle bashing. Why is it always the drunk, Fox News watching uncle who everyone is protecting themselves from at the family gathering? As an uncle, I am sort of offended.

Do you know what I’m doing on today? I’m at my sister’s place cooking dinner. And do you know what I did yesterday? I spent all day cooking in preparation for today. Now you may think you have me, “If you are doing this, how is it that you are writing this article?! Hmm?” Well, I’m actually writing this on Tuesday and I started this article on Monday. Such is the commitment that I have to you, gentle reader, that I write like a madman before holidays so that you are constantly informed and entertained. Speaking of which, look: cool motorcycle dog:

Cool Motorcycle Dog

Let’s consider the Midterm Elections. Brother says voting is pointless. Sister-in-law has read her Thomas Frank. And Uncle says:

It’s over for Democrats. Since they got destroyed this year, they’re doomed in 2016, too.

Because you know Uncle: he’s stupid and drunk. But on this one issue, he’s surprisingly reasonable. Here he is in all his glory on Ferguson:

I’m angry that Americans aren’t standing behind Darren Wilson. He’s a standup cop who was just trying to do his job. I’m outraged that anyone would criticize a law enforcement officer.

I guess I should be pleased that it wasn’t, “Those goddamned n*****s deserve to die!” But really, it’s still bad: totally predictable and lacking any empathy. Uncle is an authoritarian, who doesn’t even have reasonable things to say about The Hunger Games:

These books are trash, because kids read trash, and kids read The Hunger Games.

Translation: “I’m a bitter and hateful man!” But this isn’t me! I’ll admit, by the end of Thanksgiving, I’ll probably be modestly drunk. But that is much more likely to cause me to bring out the puppets than it is to even rant about how conservatives are destroying the nation. (Which they are.)

I think I understand why the uncle has become associated with the bigoted conservative who annoys everyone at family gatherings. First, the person who does this is almost always a man. Second, it probably isn’t your father or your brother. That’s not to say that they aren’t also bigoted conservatives. But you are used to them. They probably won’t say much because everyone knows what they think. Third, “uncle” has become a catchall for “that guy we don’t know very well.” So I’m not really offended.

But if you want to know how to deal with drunken uncles, my suggestion: deliver a puppet with every drink.

Charles Austin Beard

Charles Austin BeardOn this day in 1874, the great historian Charles Austin Beard was born. I think what matters in historians is if they provide us with new ways of viewing the world. Beard was very much this kind of historian. It’s funny, having been born in 1964, I think I came of age in a great time of American hagiography and apologetics. No one seemed terribly interested in taking a cold, hard look at where this nation had come from and what it had become. And then came the time of Reagan. And now to even mention that the United States isn’t the best country that ever has been and ever could be is an act of heresy by those on the right.

As I discussed last year: Charles Beard was a progressive who saw the history of America through the lens of class conflict. This view has fallen out of favor. But his idea applied to the founding of the country seems correct. He argued that there were two revolutions. First, there was the revolution that we all know and love and that is immortalized with singing and a bit of dance in 1776. But there was a second revolution about who should rule. There were those who wanted at least a proto-democracy, as advocated by people like Paine and Madison. And then there were those who wanted a new aristocratic rule, as advocated by people like Adams and Hamilton. I think we can all agree that the results of that revolution are much more a muddle compared to the whole England business.

Beard argued that the original revolution was really all about economics and not much about the ideology that we now tell ourselves. Gerald Horne has done more recent work updating this concept in, The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America. The thesis is that a lot of the American owning class was in a big rush to sever ties with England because of the fear that the mother country was going to outlaw the slave trade. There is no question that this is true; the only question is how big a current it was in the revolution. I think it was fairly big.

That’s the great thing about people like Beard: they expand our minds. That is why conservatives hate them. Open minds question the status quo. And that is what all intellectual activity should be about. We want to improve upon the world. Conservatives want to ossify it.

Happy birthday Charles Beard!