#200: Confederates

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #200, on the subject of Confederates.

General Robert E. Lee–perhaps the most recognized name on the Confederate side of the American Civil War–never owned a slave.  He did marry into the Custis family, descendents of Martha Washington and heirs of the estates of George Washington, some of which had slaves, but he was not an owner.

I mention this because there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the Civil War and about the Confederacy in particular.  To hear the scuttlebutt, all Confederates were bigoted racists and all northerners enlightened equalitarians.  Neither of those claims is true, nor is it true that the war was about slavery–slavery was a bit more than incidental, but ultimately a side issue.  Yet today people are fighting over flags and statues that were part of that history, trying to remove them and in the process erase an important part of our history that is relevant today to matters that have nothing to do with race or bigotry.

Between the ratification of the United States Constitution and the initiation of the Civil War there was a lingering unanswered question concerning the exact nature of this “more perfect union” the document was intended to create.  To citizens in every State, the State was a State–New Jersey had the same status as Denmark, Pennsylvania as France–and these individual independent countries had joined a treaty organization, something like NATO or the United Nations or the European Economic Community.  We came to each other’s aid for the common defense, agreed not to place tarriffs against imports and exports between each other, and met together to create laws on which we generally agreed that would bind all of us and were necessary to promote trade and interaction between us.

Yet lingering in the background of all this was what we might call the Federalist question.  Federalists like James Madison saw the central government as having ultimate authority over the state governments, that whatever was stated as Federal law was binding on all the member states.  Democrats like Thomas Jefferson saw the individual states as the ultimate authorities, lending their authority to the Federal government for the better functioning of the whole.  The Constitution did not decide that issue; had it done so, it would not have been ratified.

Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, believed in the Federalist vision of a united nation, a single country governed from a central authority.  He also happened to believe that slavery was wrong, but it was an incidental which he strongly downplayed during the campaign, promising that he would seek no law regarding slavery during his first term of office.  The majorities in northern states wanted the country more united.  The north was becoming highly industrial, building transportation networks, turning into a tightly knit unit in which business was done between Boston and Chicago more easily than ever before, and a unified legal system was to the benefit of such a system.  The south was still an agrarian society, separated by muddy roads and driven economically by the field production of cotton and other cash crops.  To northerners, Massachusetts was becoming a piece in a larger puzzle of tight-knit countries more and more connected to each other.  To southerners, Alabama was an independent country that signed a mutual defense and trade treaty with a bunch of other distant countries.

The fear southerners had of Lincoln was not really that he would end slavery–he had little chance and no intention of doing that any time soon.  It was that he would move the union more toward the central government model preferred by the north and strip the powers of the individual member countries in the process.  We see the same kinds of conflicts in Europe as they begin to adopt unified currency and banking regulations.  So when this icon of unification was elected, states that wanted to maintain autonomy seceded, and the remaining states decided that was not something they could do under the terms of the treaty, leading to a war to decide whether the Federal Government or the State Government had ultimate authority.

Of course, the elephant in the room was the one difference that had been a conflict between north and south for generations, that the southern economy was built on a slavery model and many northerners found this immoral–not that they believed blacks were any more human than the southerners believed, but that they were more on the order of animal rights activists trying to protect an exploited creature.  Because of the ongoing balance of slave and free states in the Senate, there was no real chance of meaningful legislation on that subject–but a tightening of the concept of Federalism would mean that unified laws would gradually come into being, and that was a threat.

So the question over which we fought the Civil War for five long bloody years was whether a member State of these United States had the authority to ignore Federal Law if it wished to enforce its own policies instead.  Then it was an entirely theoretical matter, as there were no Federal laws to enforce against the rebelling states, but the answer to the question turned out to be no, once you are a member of this union you are bound by Federal law, which trumps State law when they conflict.

So what the Confederates were defending, although they could not have known it, was the right of California to ignore Federal Immigration Law; and the right of Colorado to ignore Federal Drug Law.  The answer we were given then is no, Federal Law is enforceable within the member States, and the States cannot contradict it with their own laws.

So it seems to me that at least some people who are calling for the removal of Confederate markers and Confederate history actually favor that for which those Confederate soldiers fought and died–the right of states to pass laws and enforce policies contrary to those of the Federal government.

It had nothing, really, to do with slavery or bigotry.  It had to do with questions we are still facing today.  Instead of tearing down reminders of history for wrong reasons and ignorance of their significance, let’s try to gain from them the lessons of the past for the future.

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MJY Blog Entry #199: Time Travel Movies that Work

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #199, on the subject of Time Travel Movies that Work.

A few weeks ago, one of my readers specifically asked what time travel movies I thought actually worked, temporally.  My musings on this were interrupted by an extended hospitalization, but I have felt for a while that I ought to be writing something about time travel and for various reasons have not been able to obtain copies of any new time travel movies, so here’s a review of some of the old ones.

Paul Nigh’s ‘TeamTimeCar.com’ Back to the Future DeLorean Time Machine

Let’s clear out a few issues first.  The first two Terminator films, and the third, were all “workable”, but they required a tremendous number of less than probable events.  That is, if we were in the world where the onscreen stories were occurring, we would know that we were in a statistically unlikely world, but if we were in the world from which those events might have arisen we would be very foolish to trust that things were going to work that way.  A lot of our movies are like that, and I’m not going to include a lot of movies which “work provided a lot of improbable events occur”.

There are also a couple of movies that land on the time travel desk which “work” because either there is no time travel within the film (although time travel issues are raised) or we don’t know any details about it.  Terminator Genisys [edit] Salvation is noteworthy in this regard, as there is a lot of concern over what happens if Kyle Reese is killed before traveling back to become John Conner’s father.  Also in this category is the very enjoyable Safety Not Guaranteed, in which we are never entirely certain whether the machine actually does travel in time until the end.  These are good movies and technically time travel movies that work, but do so because the time travel is outside the frame of the film.

The first movie that genuinely impressed me as near perfect was Twelve Monkeys.  It still is impressive, although there are problems with it that I missed because I had not yet recognized them.  Perhaps the biggest is that it appears they are using a time travel projector/collector, and as we saw in Timeline they are seriously problematic.  That problem is resolved if, as we suggest in the beginning of our Twelve Monkeys analysis, the return trip is not initiated from the future but based on a timer that determines when he returns.  So although there are more caveats than there once were, this is still on the list of the better films.

Source Code genuinely blew me away, because it works brilliantly–but not as a time travel story.  Explaining what it actually is would be a major spoiler, but if you have not seen it, do so, and then read the analysis.

I genuinely love Eleven Minutes Ago.  It is a quirky independent film in which a time traveler accidentally crashes a wedding party, falls in love with one of the bridesmaids, and woos her by returning to the party in eleven minute segments out of sequence.  The most difficult part of this film is the card trick, but even that has a better than even chance of working.

Also on the list of films that work is Los Cronocrimines a.k.a. TimeCrimes.  It is certainly temporally convoluted, but with a few not entirely unreasonable assumptions we obtain a working story.  The time machine itself in this instance suffers from the same problems as that devised by H. G. Wells:  once someone is using it, why are they not inside it if someone else tries to use it to travel the same temporal path?  However, since no one knows a way to travel through time, we tend to avoid looking too closely at the methods suggested.

That is also the main problem with Time After Time, in which H. G. Wells pursues Jack the Ripper into the twentieth century.  The end of the movie might create some genetic problem issues, but that is beyond what we know from the film.  Of course, this works largely because the time travel is only at the beginning and not part of the larger story.  There are a few temporal hiccoughs in the beginning, though.

I should mention Back to the Future, the first part.  It has some nonsense in it concerning what happens to the photo and to Marty when it appears that his history is being undone, and in the end it should not be the Marty we know but the affluent Marty who grew up in that affluent home whom we see in the future, but otherwise this does a reasonable job of producing a replacement theory story.  The sequels are fraught with impossibilities and problems, but I saw the original at its twenty-fifth anniversary showing and thought it stood the test of time, even though this was the second analysis (the third film) I had written.

The Star Trek movies deserve mention, particularly Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home.  There are some problems with it, but in the main it holds together.  The other three time-travel-based films in the series are all over the map, from the disastrous Generations to the slightly problematic First Contact to the challenging Star Trek (2009).

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was a surprise because I knew that the time travel in the book did not work, but discovered that because of one small change that in the movie did.  It’s not perfect, but its functional.

I also need to mention Flight of the Navigator, which lands on the list because we are provided with the A-B timeline only, with Davey being delivered to the beginning of the altered C-D timeline at the end of the film.  That of course changes everything, and we don’t see how, but we can envision a solution to the time travel problems (indeed, more than one), and so reasonably can include it in movies that work.

There are other time travel movies I like and would recommend, not because they work easily but because they’re funny (Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel, Blackadder Back & Forth) or engaging (Happy Accidents, The Time Traveler’s Wife) or intriquing in their ideas (The Jacket, Next), but you can read my analyses of those and many other films, along with theory discussions, correspondence, and other articles, indexed from the main Temporal Anomalies in Popular Time Travel Movies page.

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